AMA: Urge Congress to repeal the SGR now

AMA: Urge Congress to repeal the SGR nowA guest column by the American Medical Association, exclusive to KevinMD.com.

It’s crunch time for our nation’s physicians. After an 11-year battle, we stand closer now than ever before to repealing Medicare’s fatally-flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

With the introduction of the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014 last month, Congress took a critical step toward reforming the nation’s Medicare program. This joint legislation is the product of months of unprecedented bipartisan, bicameral work to reach a landmark agreement to establish a transition to a new more stable Medicare physician payment policy to better serve America’s senior citizens.

Now, it’s time to get this legislation across the finish line. We must urge Congress to pass this legislation and repeal the SGR once and for all.

A synthesis of three earlier bills, this bipartisan legislation would deliver important improvements over current law, and reflects many AMA recommendations for supporting enhancements in health care delivery. In addition to eliminating the instability and uncertainty generated by the SGR formula, the bill provides for modest increases to physician payments for five years and reduces the risk of payment cuts under existing Medicare pay-for-performance policy by consolidating requirements into a new stream-lined program. Technical support to enable small practices to successfully participate in the modified fee-for-service program and alternative payment models would also be funded.

The legislation not only represents critical payment and delivery reform, but prudent fiscal policy as well. Congress must put an end to the cycle of expensive short-term patches and solve the underlying problem by repealing the SGR formula, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.

Over the last 12 years, Congress has spent $154 billion on 16 extremely expensive short-term Congressional patches – far more than the cost of permanently reforming the Medicare physician payment system. The cost of each short-term patch has grown significantly over time. In the last three years alone, the cost of stopping the looming cut grew from $14.9 billion in 2011 to $25.2 billion in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) latest cost estimate of $117 billion to eliminate the fiscally foolish SGR is at an all-time low. Congress must act swiftly to reform our Medicare system before this fiscally-advantageous opportunity is gone.

Decisive congressional action is needed now. Urge your lawmakers to seize this opportunity to strengthen Medicare and end the costly pattern of short-term patches.

We need to ensure that every lawmaker in Washington hears from physicians during this crucial period prior to the April 1 deadline. The AMA’s National Day of Action for SGR Repeal this Wednesday, March 5 is the perfect chance to make your views heard, send an urgent email to your members of Congress by visiting fixmedicarenow.org.

We’ve worked too hard and come too far to let this slip away now. It’s time to reform Medicare now and end the threat of massive cuts to physician payments and provide a degree of stability for physician practices.

Ardis D. Hoven is president, American Medical Association

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