JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- More than 3 million seniors call Florida home, but affordable health care isn't always easy to find.
“Between Medicare and additional coverage from AARP it’s expensive,” says Connie Brennan. “It's a mortgage payment easy.”
Brennan recently got a call from her longtime doctor, who wanted to start her own practice.
“She said, listen, I will take you as a patient, but understand I'm not going to do all the paperwork that Medicare and any of the other insurance companies are demanding, so if you want to be my patient then it's going to cost you x number of dollars,” said Brennan.
It’s an expensive scenario that patients across the country are facing more and more. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says 9,359 doctors opted-out of the Medicare system in 2012, compared to 3,700 in 2009.
Dr. Daniel Kantor of the Duval County Medical Society says patients don't need to panic.
“Doctors aren't all leaving the system very suddenly, and their doctors are still there for them. What the doctors are trying to do is figure out the best system that they can give without making it to where the doctors are overburdened and are no longer giving quality care,” said Kantor.
Kantor says unanswered questions involving Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are leaving doctors frustrated.
“Some doctors say, ‘I don't want to deal with the paperwork that's involved. I don't want to deal with the questions of patient privacy that involving the federal government has me do. I don't want to get involved with all those things. What I want to do is opt out,'” Kantor said.
Kantor says doctors aren't legally required to accept Medicare, and if they follow the rules, they can leave anytime.
“You have to do it formally and there's a waiting period, which always varies, and then after that you are completely out of the system. So you're not allowed to bill for services in the system, but also patients are not allow to submit your bills to Medicare. That's the big problem," said Kantor.
But opting out is a big risk. Action News has learned the new health care law could soon give the government the right to take away their ability to write prescriptions.
“That's kind of scary. That means the doctor you've been seeing for a long time you may really want to see, and they may really want to see you, and now the federal government is going to say their prescriptions are no good. So that's a concern that we have.”
Currently there is a push for Congress to pass the Medicare Patient Empowerment Act, which would give patients the option of going to any doctor, and using Medicare coverage with the understanding that the patient is responsible for covering any additional costs.
“The idea is that we all get Medicare because we paid into it. And the question is, why can't we use it the way we want to? Why can we only go to doctors that accept Medicare? Why can't we use it almost like a voucher system?”
It’s an idea the patients like Brennan hope lawmakers will consider to keep other doctors from opting out of government care altogether.
“I think as we move forward that's going to become more of the norm rather than the exception.”