If you’re about to turn 65 and qualify for Medicare, take note—you may have to switch doctors. With many primary care doctors not accepting Medicare, it’s not unusual for people who qualify to suddenly be faced with the necessity of switching from a doctor they’ve had for years.
Primary care doctors are becoming rare in the US—and because they’re in such high demand, they can often choose not to accept Medicare patients. Because Medicare reimburses doctors at a lower rate than private insurance does, this is often in the doctor’s interest—and with huge medical school debt and malpractice insurance costs, many doctors are under intense financial pressure. But patients can suffer. And with the Baby Boom generation beginning to qualify for Medicare, doctors who accept it are needed now more than ever.
If you’re having trouble finding a primary care physician, here are a few places to look.
Your state medical association
Many state medical associations offer directories that list doctors of all specialties practicing in-state—including those that take Medicare and new doctors just setting up practice. Hopefully, this will help you find a primary care doctor in your area.
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If you’re already receiving Medicare, you can use the MediCare website to find doctors and hospitals in your area. Go to the Home page and under “Forms, Help and Resources,” select “Find doctors, hospitals, and facilities.” Enter your Zip code, and choose “primary care” under the drop-down menu. You can specify the location and specialty you’re looking for, and the website will give you address and contact information.
Check with your community health center
Many community health centers offer primary care. In some smaller communities, this may be the only place where you can get it. Check your local community health center or those in neighboring towns to see if there are any primary care doctors who are taking new patients there.
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The WebMD website has a search tool that allows you to look for doctors in your area based on Zip code, city and state, or the doctor’s name. This tool may also be able to help you find a primary care physician in your area who’s taking new patients.
Check with local medical schools
Some medical schools run primary care clinics where you can get care from both medical students and more experienced physicians. For example, the University of California at San Francisco runs a primary care facility that offers routine medical exams and treatment as well as preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions. There may be a medical school in your area that has a similar program.
Talk to friends and family
It’s possible someone you know has already gone through this—and can provide help. Check with friends and family members who live in your area to see if anyone has a recommendation for a primary care physician who takes Medicare.
It’s not easy finding a new physician if you’re forced to switch. Primary care physicians are becoming more in demand as fewer doctors make the choice to go into primary care. But it’s still possible to find a doctor who can give you the care you need—and accepts Medicare. There are several effective online resources to check out—including WebMD, Medicare.gov, and state medical associations. You may find your new primary care physician at a community health center or a clinic run by a medical school. Try these options, and you should be able to find the right doctor in your area.