Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:39 PM on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New clinics open for Medicare patients

ANCHORAGE (AP) — A new medical clinic is open for business in south Anchorage, but patients will need a Medicare card to get in.

The Alaska Medicare Clinic intends to keep costs low by relying on a team of registered nurses and medical aides to spend more time with patients.

The clinic's one physician, Dr. Bob Thomas, will make final decisions on care, but will be seeing about 45 patients a day. That's at least double the number most primary care doctors see.

"It's this way of doing things that we think will allow the clinic to work on Medicare," said Dr. George Rhyneer, a retired cardiologist who spearheaded creation of the clinic. The clinic, which opened in May, is a nonprofit organization.

A similar clinic opened in Anchorage in January. The Providence Senior Care Center has a two-month waiting list for first-time patients.

Medicare, the federal health insurance, is for people 65 and older. But most primary care doctors in Anchorage won't take new Medicare patients because they say the reimbursement rates are set too low and they lose money. The clinic hopes to alleviate that problem.

Some doctors allow Medicare patients to stay if they agree to not use Medicare and pay their own doctor bills. That appears to be a growing practice, said Mark Foster, a health care analyst and consultant to the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Some don't accept them at all, and others, such as those at Medical Park Family Care, allow younger patients who age into Medicare to stay with the clinic, but don't take new Medicare patients.

Of an estimated 26,000 Medicare patients in Anchorage, Foster said probably 8,000 to 10,000 of them still don't have primary care doctors. He predicts the two new Medicare clinics will fill up and both will have waiting lists in a year or two.

The two new Medicare clinics in Anchorage each got financial help to get under way. Providence is subsidizing its Senior Care Center, and the Alaska Medicare Clinic received $1 million in start-up money from the state Legislature.

But the goal of the Alaska Medicare Clinic is to make it on its own.

"There's lots of room for more patients," Rhyneer said. "We know we'll break even when we get to the target load."

The addition of the two clinics means that for the first time in about a dozen years, people on Medicare should have no trouble finding a primary care doctor in Anchorage. The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic in Fairview accepts all patients, including those on Medicare.

Both the Providence Senior Care Center and the Alaska Medicare Clinic plan to add to their patient loads.

Alaska Medicare Clinic has about 500 patients so far, and is aiming for 4,000, said Kirsten Gurley, the clinic manager.

Providence Senior Care has served about 1,300 patients as of the first of August, with four doctors and an advanced nurse practitioner. They plan to add two doctors by the end of the year.