DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What resources are available to help seniors locate and research Medicare doctors? My husband and I are approaching age 65 and need to find a new internist or primary care doctor who accepts Medicare. Our current doctor is not enrolled with Medicare and will not continue seeing us as Medicare patients. — Looking for care
DEAR LOOKING: Finding a new primary care doctor or specialist who accepts Medicare patients can be challenging. Because of low reimbursement rates and greater paperwork hassles, many doctors today have opted out of Medicare, or they’re not accepting new patients with Medicare coverage.
With that said, Medicare is now offering a service that makes finding Medicare-approved doctors a little easier. And there are a number of good resources available today that can help you check up on prospective doctors for free. Here’s what you should know.
The government’s new online “Physician Compare” tool is one of the easiest ways to locate doctors in your area that accept traditional Medicare. Just go to www.medicare.gov/find-a-doctor, where you can do a search by physician’s name, medical specialty or by geographic location. If you don’t have Internet access, you can also get this information by calling 800-633-4227.
Keep in mind, though, that locating a Medicare-approved doctor doesn’t guarantee you’ll be accepted as a patient. Many doctors limit the number of Medicare patients they accept, while others have a full roster and aren’t seeing any new patients. You’ll need to call the individual doctor’s office to find out.
Another option you may want to consider is to join a Medicare Advantage plan. These are government-approved, private health plans (usually HMOs and PPOs), sold by insurance companies, that you can choose in place of original Medicare. There may be more doctors available who accept patients on these plans than doctors who take patients on original Medicare. See www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan to research this option.
After you’ve found a few Medicare-approved doctors who are accepting new patients, there are plenty of resources available today that can help you research them. Some of the best include HealthGrades, Vitals and RateMDs. These are free doctor-rating websites that provide important background information as well as consumer comments and ratings from past patients. Here’s a breakdown of what each site offers:
• Healthgrades.com provides in-depth profiles on around 750,000 U.S. physicians including their education and training, hospital affiliations, board certification, awards and recognitions, professional misconduct, disciplinary action and malpractice records. It also offers a five-star ratings scale from past patients on a number of issues like communication and listening skills, wait time, time spent with the patient, office friendliness and more.
• Vitals.com provides some basic background information on around 720,000 U.S. doctors, along with unedited comments from past patients and ratings on things like promptness, bedside manner, accurate diagnosis and more.
• Ratemds.com primarily offers ratings and anonymous comments from past patients.
It’s a good idea to check out all three doctor-rating sites so you can get a bigger sampling and a better feel of how previous patients are rating a particular doctor.
Another good resource to help you gather information is at angieslist.com (888-888-5478). This is a fee-based membership service that also offers doctors ratings and reviews from other members in your area for $7.60 for one month or $25 for the year.
Or consider purchasing a copy of the “Consumers’ Guide to Top Doctors.” Created by Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization, this book will help you find top-rated doctors who have been recommended by other doctors. The group’s database lists 24,000 physicians, in 35 different fields of specialty, in 50 metro areas. The cost for this guide is $25 plus shipping and handling (call 800-213-7283 to order a copy), or you can view the information online at checkbook.org/doctors for $25.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and author of the book “The Savvy Senior.”