U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today got a commitment from Department of Health and Human Services Secretary-Nominee Kathleen Sebelius to work with Murkowski on improving access to primary care providers for Alaska's Medicare beneficiaries.
Murkowski raised the issue at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing at which Sebelius testified.
Murkowski told Sebelius that she recently held a teletown meeting with 4,000 Alaskan seniors who expressed frustration at being forced to give up their private coverage for Medicare.
"In Anchorage, our largest city, we've got a situation where we have providers that are no longer accepting Medicare eligible individuals," Murkowski said. "Only one in 10 is taking any new Medicare eligible patients."
Added Murkowski: "You pay into the system your whole working life and they're now at the point as retirees where they're saying, I'm prepared to reject a program, forego the benefits just so that I can have access to a Medicare provider.'"
Sebelius agreed it was a "a huge concern and one that I share."
Figuring out why providers are opting not to accept Medicare patients in Alaska, Sebelius said, "is something that . . . I would be eager to work with you to try and resolve."
Murkowski was successful in getting legislation passed in the last Congress that increased Alaska's Medicare reimbursement rate by 35 percent beginning this year, and that's helped in at least one regard.
"What we're seeing, interestingly enough, is physicians are not taking on new Medicare eligible individuals. What they're doing is as their existing patients are aging into Medicare, they are choosing to keep them on," Murkowski explained.
Murkowski encouraged Sebelius to visit Alaska "and see some of the challenges that we face as well as some of the remarkable achievements that we have made in delivering health care through telemedicine and just being smart with what we do with healthcare dollars."