AMA: Patients and physicians call on Congress to stop Medicare cut

A guest column by the American Medical Association, exclusive to KevinMD.com.

Medicare physician payment cuts are once again looming in the immediate future, with a cut of 25 percent now threatening to hurt access to care for seniors and military families. As many doctors know all too well, the looming cut is forcing physicians to make difficult decisions about the continuing role Medicare can play in their practices.

The AMA is working on behalf of physicians and their patients to urge Congress to take action before Thanksgiving to stop the cut through the end of 2011.  We are calling for a 13-month delay to help stabilize the situation and allow time for the new Congress to enact a permanent fix to the perennial problem of the Medicare physician payment system.  Congress must act this month – the first cut, a whopping 23 percent reduction, is scheduled to occur on December 1.

Due to the critical need for congressional action before Thanksgiving, AMA is helping physicians make their concerns heard in the nation’s capitol.  Contact your elected officials in Washington, D.C. and let them know that you support an immediate 13-month stop to the Medicare physician payment cuts, and permanent reform going forward.  Physician support is especially necessary on November 17th, “White Coat Wednesday”, when physicians across the country will join together in calling their members of Congress to urge them to stop the cut.   The Physicians Grassroots Network hotline is available at (800) 833-6354, and provides individual physicians the resources they need to contact their elected officials about how this cut would impact their medical practice.  A new flyer is available free to physicians to display in their office to educate their patients about the scheduled cut and encourage them to call their elected officials.  We also have resources on our web site to help physicians decide their Medicare participation status for next year.

There is a resounding call from across the country for Congress to take swift action.  A brand new AMA poll of Americans, released this week, found an overwhelming 94 percent of adults age 18 and over feel the looming Medicare physician payment cut poses a serious problem for seniors who rely on Medicare.  Four out of five adults said Congress should act immediately to stop the Medicare physician payment cut.

Cracks in the system are already showing, and it is critical that Congress stop the cut this month before more seniors are hurt by Congress’ continued Medicare mismanagement. About 1 in 5 physicians overall, and nearly one third of primary care physicians, are restricting the number of Medicare patients in their practice because of low reimbursement rates and the threat of future cuts, according to an AMA survey earlier this year.

Patients are concerned about this 25 percent cut, and they can make their voice heard in Congress through our Patients Action Network.  AMA’s new national ad encourages patients to contact their members of Congress by calling 888-434-6200.  Leading organizations, including AARP and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), are calling for Congress to stop the cut.  Today is Veteran’s Day, and with MOAA, we are drawing attention to the fact that the nearly 10 million military families who rely on TRICARE also face a crisis in access to care, as TRICARE ties its physician payment rates to Medicare.  In fact, MOAA has called these payment cuts the number one threat to military beneficiaries’ health care access.

The united call for action on the scheduled 25 percent Medicare physician payment is coming from patients, physicians and military families across our nation.   It is supported by the vast majority of American adults.  This month is the time for Congress to answer that resounding call by taking action to stop the cuts – before it is too late.

Cecil B. Wilson is President of the American Medical Association.

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