U.S. Eye Physicians and Surgeons Predict Negative Consequences of Sequester for Medicare Patients

Mar 06, 2013, 10:02 ET from American Academy of Ophthalmology

Ophthalmologists Say Patient Access to Care at Stake Due to Funding Cuts

SAN FRANCISCO and WASHINGTON, March 6, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the federal government assesses an $85 billion reduction in its 2013 budget, an included 2 percent Medicare cut will hurt beneficiaries who need medical eye care, according to ophthalmologists – medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye disease. In a survey conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, approximately 72 percent of responding member physicians predicted they would be forced to make decisions that will negatively affect the ability of their Medicare patients to receive the highest quality of medical care.

Specifically, 43 percent of ophthalmologists said they would be forced to close their practice to new Medicare beneficiaries or restrict the number of new program participants they see, while 28 percent predicted they would have to limit access of their current Medicare patients to urgent-care treatment only.  In addition, nearly 11 percent of respondents said they would be forced to consider changing or ending their participation status in the Medicare program.

The Academy took this informal survey of its members last week to assess the potential impact on Medicare patients as a result of the across-the-board government spending reductions that are part of sequestration, which went into effect on March 1. Ophthalmology has consistently attempted to educate members of Congress about the need to protect Medicare from arbitrary funding cuts, due to the high percentage of Americans over age 60 who rely on the program for their health insurance coverage.

"President Obama and members of Congress are grappling with some extremely serious financial and economic issues that clearly need be addressed," said David W. Parke II, M.D., chief executive officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "While most economists agree that the nation's budget deficit is not sustainable, most everyone would concur that among the essential services provided by the government is the health care safety net that Medicare provides to this nation's seniors. The Academy strongly urges Congress to recognize that a two percent cut may impact practices such that it will force some of them to restrict access to non-urgent care."

The Academy's survey of its members was a non-scientific poll of 1,761 ophthalmologists in the United States, conducted Feb. 27-March 1, 2013. Among the study's key findings is that 82 percent (1,450) of responding ophthalmologists have a significant number of patients – defined as 40 percent or greater – who are Medicare participants. This includes 47 percent of ophthalmologists (825) who report that Medicare beneficiaries make up more than 60 percent of their practice.

According to the Vision Problems in the U.S. report, released by Prevent Blindness America, more than 23 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma – all common eye diseases among seniors. As individuals age, their chances of suffering from one of these diseases becomes significantly greater. That number continues to climb, with the latest available data from the 2010 U.S. census projecting the nation's population in this critical age group to double during the next 25 years.

"Eye disease disproportionately affects the elderly," said Michael X. Repka, M.D., medical director for governmental affairs for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "This survey clearly makes the connection between the impact of eye disease on seniors and the need for these patients to have ready access to quality eye care through Medicare. This is an issue that must be addressed both immediately and well into the future as ophthalmologists, who are medical and surgical eye care providers, will have an increasing number of elderly patients who will require their services."

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s— with more than 32,000 members worldwide.  Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org  The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org  to learn more.

SOURCE American Academy of Ophthalmology