NewsPoll: Whatever you do, don't make Medicare bennies pay more

Thursday, March 18, 2010

YARMOUTH, Maine - A slight majority of HME providers believe that Medicare should not increase patient co-pays to help offset the rising cost of healthcare, according to a recent HME News Poll.

"Senior citizens already find it challenging to pay for their co-pays, secondary or supplemental insurance, prescription drugs, even their electrical bills," said John Taylor, regional billing center manager for American HomePatient in Lincoln, Neb.

Of the 164 people who responded to the poll, 58% said co-pays should not be increased; 42% said they should be.

"I think co-pays should be increased because Medicare cannot constantly keep coming after providers to save money," said Bill Armstrong, president of American Oxygen in Centennial, Colo. "Low reimbursement does not equal top quality products for the beneficiaries."

Added another provider: "People need to feel the financial sting, just as providers are feeling it, to understand and comprehend the extent of the (healthcare crisis) we are all facing. If only providers get hit, the public at large does not care."

When asked how big an increase beneficiaries could stomach, 72% of respondents said 5%; 19% said 10% and 9% said 15%.

Many providers submitted written comments that echoed Taylor: Medicare beneficiaries cannot afford an increase.

What's more, several said, it's already a struggle to collect the current 20% co-pay. That problem would only get worse if it increased.

"Collecting co-pays are a pain now," said a provider. "Although it is illegal not to attempt to collect, most beneficiaries tell us that everyone just writes the co-pays off, including the doctors. So, basically by raising co-pays, DMEs will be out more of an expense in collecting and writing off uncollectible accounts. We now just turn them over to collection agencies because we do not want to go through any hassle with CMS thinking we are breaking the law. Sad, but CMS has forced us to do this."

Rather than raise the co-pay across the board, respondents suggested the following:

-    Increase it for COPD, morbid obesity and other conditions related to poor personal choices.

-    Increase the deductible, not the co-pay.

-    Make increases based on income: the wealthier the beneficiary, the more they pay.

-    Pass President Obama's healthcare reform bill, which will put more pressure on insurers to compete, aggregate uninsured patients into coverage pools and ultimately lower costs far more than any increase in the co-pay.