Medicare to Finally Pay Doctors for Care They Were Giving Away

Medicare will start compensating physicians for all the work they do to manage the chronic care of beneficiaries. Live, face-to-face encounters with patients will no longer be a requirement for payment.

It's just an extra $42.60 a month in pay for care provided to certain Medicare patients, but for primary care doctors it's a huge cause for celebration.

Finally, Medicare has adopted a new code that pays physicians for the ton of work they and their staffs provide for millions of their sicker patients when the patients aren't seated in front of them.

Until the rule kicks in Jan. 1, a face-to-face encounter has been required for doctors to get paid.

The so-far unpaid work is the countless hours primary care doctors spend on tasks such as: reviewing lab reports and specialist consults, talking with family and patients by phone, arranging referrals, easing transitions, calming fears, correcting mis-information, straightening out nursing home issues, helping order medical equipment, and revising prescription drug orders. The more complex the patient, the more time spent.

"Until now, we've been doing this on our own dime—at the beginning or end of the day, during non-patient care hours—because we think it's important," says Rhode Island internist Yul Ejnes, MD.

"You can argue the payment amount isn't enough, or the requirements excessive. But at least it's a start. Medicare's… old party line that the visit encompasses all of this work done in between seems to be falling aside."

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