AMA: Why patients should care about fixing the Medicare physician payment cut

The following is part of a series of original guest columns by the American Medical Association.

by J. James Rohack, MD

Prominently displayed at the top of the AMA’s Web site this week is a “countdown clock” to this year’s 21 percent Medicare physician payment cut, which will hurt physicians ability to care for all Medicare and TRICARE patients. As of this posting, there are about two weeks left for congressional action.

On behalf of the many dedicated physicians who care for seniors, the disabled and military families, the AMA is strongly urging Congress to permanently fix the flawed payment formula that projects this cut. AARP and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) have joined us in this call for permanent reform.

This is a crisis that affects all physicians who care for Medicare patients as the cut is across-the-board to all states and specialties. I’m concerned about the impact on seniors who need the care that physicians are able to provide as they age – and also about the health of our practices. A cut of this magnitude will impact our ability to participate in quality improvement activities and to invest in health IT. The instability created by the Medicare physician payment formula, and Congress’ series of short-term fixes, creates great difficulties for physician practices caring for Medicare patients. Permanent repeal of the broken formula and providing payments that better reflect the cost of providing care is the only way to preserve the security and stability of Medicare’s physician foundation for seniors who rely on the program.

Here’s where we stand, about two weeks out from the 21 percent cut. In November of 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3961, which repeals the current formula and updates payments to better reflect increasing practice costs. The AMA and its partners in organized medicine, along with AARP and MOAA, are strongly urging the U.S. Senate to act quickly with a similar bill. Legislation that fixes the formula once and for all can go forward independent of a health system reform bill.

The Senate took a step forward earlier this month by exempting $82 billion of the Medicare physician payment reform cost from its “pay as you go” rules, known as a pay-go waiver. That legislation also passed the House, and now both the House and Senate must still pass identical bills to repeal the formula.

Time is running out, and it’s critical that your legislators, especially your Senators, hear directly from you about the important need to fix the formula to preserve our ability to care for Medicare and TRICARE patients now and for years to come.

J. James Rohack is President of the American Medical Association.


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