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Highlights

In the 1990s, several reforms to Medicare physician fees were implemented to help control spending growth in the traditional Medicare program, known as fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare. Concerns were raised that these reforms might have a negative impact on Medicare beneficiaries' access to physician services, but at the end of the decade, there was little or no evidence of nationwide access problems. In 2002, access concerns were again raised when Medicare physician fees were reduced 5.4 percent. Some policymakers have questioned whether access to physician services may have diminished either nationwide, in certain geographic areas, or for certain beneficiaries needing high-cost services. In October 2003, we briefed the Senate Finance Committee on trends from 2000 to 2002 in (1) Medicare beneficiaries' use of physician services, an indicator of access to these services, and (2) physicians' decisions to "accept assignment," that is, accept Medicare's fee as payment in full. This report addresses the same two objectives and expands on the information provided in our October 2003 briefing.

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