Many primary care practitioners will be a little poorer next year because of the expiration of a health law program that has been paying them a 10 percent bonus for caring for Medicare patients. Some say the loss may trickle down to the patients, who could have a harder time finding a doctor or have to wait longer for appointments. But others say the program has had little impact on their practices, if they were aware of it at all.
The incentive program began in 2011 and was designed to address disparities in Medicare reimbursements between primary care physicians and specialists. It distributed $664 million in bonuses in 2012, the most recent year that figures are available, to roughly 170,000 primary care practitioners, awarding each an average of $3,938, according to a 2014 report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
Although that may sound like a small adjustment, it can be important to a primary care practice, says Dr. Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "It's not so much about the salary as it's about the practice expense," she explains. "Family medicine runs on very small margins, and sometimes on negative margins if they're paying for electronic health records, for example. Every few thousand makes a difference."