Home » Medicare Patients Often Travel Over 50 Miles Just to Consult with a Neurologist, Study Finds

Medicare Patients Often Travel Over 50 Miles Just to Consult with a Neurologist, Study Finds

by Richard A Reagan

Nearly one in five Medicare beneficiaries must travel over 50 miles to see a neurologist, a study by the Academy of American Neurology reveals, highlighting a significant barrier to accessing specialized neurological care for America’s elderly.

This daunting reality places a spotlight on the difficulties faced by patients dealing with severe neurological conditions such as brain cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (MS), who require the expertise of a neurologist for treatment and management. [Source]

These ailments require the expertise of neurologists, yet for many, such expertise is not just a short drive away. “Our study found a substantial travel burden exists for some people with neurologic conditions, especially those living in areas with fewer neurologists and in rural settings,” explains Brian C. Callaghan, MD, MS, FAAN, of the University of Michigan Health in Ann Arbor and chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s Health Services Research Subcommittee. [Source]

This extensive project analyzed the medical journeys of over 563,000 Medicare recipients who sought the care of a neurologist within a year.

Participants averaged 70 years of age, and the study meticulously considered demographics such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, and specific neurological disorders. With over 1.2 million office visits logged, the findings paint a stark picture of the healthcare scene for America’s seniors.

Travel for care wasn’t just a matter of crossing town lines; for more than 96,000 individuals, it meant venturing 81 miles on average—one way.

This is contrasted sharply with the shorter distances traveled by those living closer to neurological services.

The study illuminates the disproportionate impact on residents of rural areas and those in regions with a scant presence of neurologists. Such patients were three times more likely to undertake these extensive trips compared to their urban counterparts.

Long-distance travel was notably prevalent among patients with brain and spinal cord cancers, with 40% of these individuals facing lengthy journeys.

The decision to bypass closer neurologists, sometimes by over 20 miles, hints at the complexities behind patient choices, including preferences for specific doctors or the need to reduce wait times.

The implications of these findings are profound. “Travel distance can be a serious barrier to care for people with chronic neurologic conditions,” states Carlayne E. Jackson, MD, FAAN, president of the American Academy of Neurology.

The data further reveals that patients enduring the ordeal of long-distance travel were 26% less likely to return for follow-up visits, a fact that highlights the challenges in maintaining consistent care.

The study’s authors advocate for policy interventions and innovations like telemedicine to bridge the gap in access to neurological care, especially in under-served and rural communities.

Chun Chieh Lin, PhD, MBA, from Ohio State University and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, calls for “feasible and affordable ways to improve necessary access to neurologic care.”

This challenge is compounded by the financial aspects of Medicare Part B premiums. [Source]

President Joe Biden recently celebrated a decrease in these premiums for 2023, marking the first reduction in over a decade.

However, this announcement did not account for the substantial increase in premiums the year prior, partially attributed to the expected costs of Alzheimer’s drug expenses that ultimately did not materialize.

As a result, while seniors are paying $5.20 less per month in 2023 than in the previous year, they are still paying $16.40 more compared to 2021.

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