AMA: Advocating for Medicare, military and fiscal responsibility

AMA: Advocating for Medicare, military and fiscal responsibilityA guest column by the American Medical Association, exclusive to

This week, I’m joining hundreds of physicians and medical students in Washington, DC during the American Medical Association’s National Advocacy Conference to talk to our federal lawmakers about an end to what has become an annual chore of stopping drastic scheduled Medicare physician payment cuts to preserve access to health care for seniors and military families. This year, a 27 percent cut is scheduled to hit physicians who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients on March 1. Congress must come together to end this yearly routine once and for all by permanently repealing the broken Medicare physician payment formula.

Over the last decade, there have been 13 scheduled cuts and 13 expensive, short-term patches passed by Congress. These patches stave off that year’s looming cut but do nothing to address the root of the problem. Each patch has increased both the severity of scheduled cuts to physicians who care for seniors and military families and the long-term cost to taxpayers.

The cost to taxpayers for permanent repeal of the broken Medicare physician payment formula has grown dramatically over the years due to this annual budgeting charade. As recently as 2005 the cost of permanent repeal would have been $48 billion. Today it is estimated to be more than $300 billion. If Congress continues to implement the same temporary patches as they have in the past, the cost will double again to $600 billion in only five years. Most importantly: it will never cost less to permanently fix this problem than it does right now.

It’s hard to imagine a majority of people agreeing on anything these days – especially in Washington. But after talking to Congress about this issue for a decade, we’ve found that preserving access to health care for seniors and military families is something we can all support, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that this formula is broken. It’s not difficult to understand why. We have already seen signs that inadequate Medicare rates and the ongoing threat of future cuts are beginning to cause health care access problems for seniors and military families across the nation, and a drastic cut would only exacerbate this problem.

Although Congress has agreed that the formula is broken, we’ve heard year after year that the formula could not be eliminated because of its large price tag, which grows with each short-term patch. But unlike other years, this time we have an opportunity to end this formula for good without adding to the deficit.

There is a unique and fiscally responsible opportunity right now to use projected spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to eliminate the flawed formula and protect access to care for military families and seniors. As these wars wind down, projected spending that won’t be used becomes available to pay for eliminating the fatally flawed Medicare physician payment formula to ensure access to care for seniors and military — without adding to the nation’s deficit.  This solution would help servicemen and women, military families and seniors maintain access to health care and is simply the right thing to do.

Last month, the AMA and 108 state and specialty societies sent a letter asking Congress to use this funding to help pay for ensuring access to health care for military and seniors. Through the AMA’s Patients’ Action Network, concerned Americans have sent more than 500,000 emails and phone calls to tell Congress to stop spending taxpayer dollars to preserve a formula everyone agrees is broken. The AMA will use this momentum next week at the AMA’s National Advocacy Conference to continue to advocate for a permanent fix to the broken Medicare physician payment formula.

As March 1 approaches, a majority of Americans understand the gravity of this situation, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that action must be taken and we have found a solution that will not add to the deficit. Congress should take opportunity to act in a fiscally responsible way and repeal this formula for good. Physicians can learn more about this issue and be connected to their Members of Congress through the Physicians’ Grassroots Network by visiting the website or calling 800-833-6354.

Peter W. Carmel is President of the American Medical Association.

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  • brian

    Great AMA… now how about actually advocating for Doctors?

  • Anonymous

    I’m unclear how this does not advocate for doctors simply because it also advocates continuing support for seniors and military families.  Unlike a lot of people, I have two dogs in this particular fight:  my lifelong career in health care and my lifelong career in the military (with a child who is also a career Soldier, and he has a family).  I suppose you could say I have three dogs in the fight, since I’m chronologically a “senior” though not on Social Security.

    On reading the headline, I initially thought this would be about kicking seniors and military families to the curb, as so many are frothing to do, but it’s not (note to self re: bias).  Unreasonable payments to physicians for services rendered leads to one of two things in my experience:   (1) inadequate services rendered by the less scrupulous, or (2) elimination of those categories of people as acceptable patients.  How helpful is either in solving the problem?

    Furthermore, attempting to balance the budget by draconian cuts on the income and benefits of the less than 1% of our population that, in fact, serves (and only about 0.17% of that population stays in long enough to collect retirement/health benefits) is unconscionable.

    Those who have a beef with maintaining a military at all really need to take it up with Congress and their states to enact an amendment to the Constitution since “to provide for the common defense” is the only federal spending mandated by that founding document.

  • Robert J DuCharme

    I am a retired Air Force member and leading a start up in the health care industry (Vantage Health Access). As a society we have to decide what is important to us and certainly health care is one of those things. Thinking outside the box and finding unique ways to provide different ways to provide great health care and still allowing doctors to make a living is possible. As we continue to live longer lives, this problem will only continue to grow. Doctors, we want you to be successful. The better you do the better treatment we get!!!

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