Medicare May Worsen Health Care Workforce Shortage

There’s a health care crisis here in Nevada. Health care providers and treatment centers are dealing with crippling staff shortages, with Nevada ranking 45th in the nation for the number of active physicians per 100,000 residents, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This widening gap between the number of patients and the number of medical professionals available to treat them means that the quality of care that Nevadans receive is diminishing.

This crisis is due in large part to how Medicare reimburses health care providers. Most providers rely on funding from Medicare to pay their staff and support critical services, yet Medicare’s reimbursements have not kept pace with rising costs. For instance, labor costs have skyrocketed in recent years, yet providers are not receiving enough funding to properly compensate staff. Given that attracting frontline workers like nurses and physicians is already a challenge, this is creating a situation where health care providers are severely understaffed. This leaves patients bearing the brunt.

The dialysis community demonstrates a clear example of how Medicare’s reimbursement structure affects the health of Nevada’s patients. Patients who have kidney failure and undergo dialysis often require multiple treatments per week just to maintain a healthy standard of living, so when their dialysis centers have severe staff shortages, they are faced with a consistent reduction in quality of care.

This is very personal to me, because my mother-in-law had kidney failure and eventually went on dialysis. Dialysis prolonged her life, giving her more time with her family — and especially her grandkids — for which we were incredibly grateful. Every family should have the option of affordable, accessible dialysis should they be in a similar circumstance.

Yet rather than properly fund dialysis treatments, Medicare recently proposed a mere 1.6% increase to Medicare’s reimbursement for dialysis. Given the staggering rise in inflation these past few years, a 1.6% increase is essentially a budget cut. With fewer resources at their disposal, this means that dialysis centers will struggle even more to hire and maintain staff, some will likely shut down, and Nevadans on dialysis will suffer the consequences.

Nevada is home to one of the highest rates of kidney disease in the country, which means tens of thousands of Nevadans rely on dialysis to live a normal life. And while dialysis has offered kidney disease patients in Nevada the opportunity to live a satisfying life, ultimately, the state of reimbursement for treatment is severely failing both patients and health care providers.

This is quickly becoming the norm among all types of treatment.

Medicare needs to take a hard look at the consequences of its payment structure. Our health care workforce is shrinking, and this problem won’t fix itself. Health care providers need more funding to pay staff and attract new employees, and only Medicare has the power to provide it.

President Joe Biden and Medicare must work to update their reimbursements for health care providers to ensure that our health care workforce remains strong, and that every Nevadan gets the care they need.


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