AMA lobbies for halts to cuts in Maine

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SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – Maine doctors stand to lose $27 million for the care of elderly and disabled patients next year because of a 10 percent cut in Medicare payments, the president-elect of the American Medical Association said Tuesday.

Dr. Nancy Nielsen came to Maine as part of the AMA’s national effort to lobby Congress to put a halt to the cuts, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Maine will be especially hard hit because it has the nation’s second-highest proportion of Medicare patients and a below-average ratio of physicians to Medicare beneficiaries, said Nielsen, an internist from Buffalo, N.Y.

Maine has about 220,000 Medicare patients, representing 17 percent of the population, the AMA says. If the cuts go into effect as scheduled, doctors will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat, Nielsen said.

“This is a crisis. It’s not a manufactured crisis, it’s very real,” she said.

Maine is the fifth state the AMA has visited as part of its campaign to have Congress stop the upcoming cuts, which will automatically go into effect without congressional intervention.

At a news conference, Nielsen was joined by Dr. Kevin Flanigan of Pittsfield, the president of the Maine Medical Association, and Dr. Thomas Claffey, president of InterMed P.A. medical group.

Maine, they said, will suffer more than most other states because it has the oldest population in the country. Medicare is the government-run health benefit that covers more than 43 million seniors.

If the Medicare cuts go through, Maine doctors would lose $27 million in 2008, and more than $1 billion from 2008-2016, according to the AMA.

While Medicare has experienced cuts in recent years, those cuts have been along the lines of 5 percent a year, Nielsen said, not the 10 percent that now looms.

Flanigan said Medicare cutbacks will make it even harder for Maine to attract and retain doctors. “With a shortage of physicians – particularly primary care physicians – looming, who will take care of these patients?” he asked.

Nielsen said there appears to be support in Washington to make sure the scheduled cuts don’t go into effect, but that Congress seems to be having trouble figuring out the best way to stop them.

AP-ES-07-17-07 1353EDT

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