Texas Medical Association: Stop the Medicare meltdown


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

by William H. Fleming III, MD

So we have this new health law that’s intended to provide better health care access for most Americans. Many of the reforms rely upon the sustainability and effectiveness of Medicare.

Medicare, however, is doomed to failure unless Congress fixes a fundamental problem existing within the current program — the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. The new health law ignored it. Now Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are sending physicians and patients on a daunting roller coaster ride — with no end in sight.

Medicare Roller Coaster Ride

For the past decade, physicians have had to live with the uncertainty of a potential Medicare cut. However, nothing has topped the gut-wrenching events of the past four months. Four times since Jan. 1 physicians have waited and worried about a Medicare payment cut. First came the potential cut of more than 21 percent starting Jan. 1. Congress postponed it until March 1. Then until April 1, and now through June 1. Twice in the past four months, the steep cuts actually took effect. The March cut lasted one day. The April cut lasted 14. Each time Congress stepped in only to delay the cuts — never to fix the problem. Twice this year, CMS has held payments because of congressional inaction. These constant payment disruptions create an administrative catastrophe for our practices.

The continued uncertainty complicates our ability to make decisions for our practices. Many physicians are postponing equipment purchases or taking on more patients or staff because we simply cannot plan in this environment. Others are opting out of Medicare or choosing not to take any new Medicare patients. Meanwhile, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and military families are left without a doctor of their choice.

It was hard enough on physicians to worry about Medicare cuts year to year — now it’s month to month. We are frustrated, worried, and not sure what the future holds for our patients or our practices. We are the foundation of any health care system. The government simply cannot build a new health care system if the foundation of Medicare is crumbling.

Stop the Medicare Meltdown Petition Drive

That’s why a nationwide petition drive is underway, spearheaded by the Texas Medical Association. Fifty other state medical societies and more than 30 national and state specialty medical societies have joined to gather 1 million signatures. The goal is impress upon Congress the SGR issue is real and it’s a local issue — affecting every one of their constituents. Medicare patients are not pawns for use in a political chess game. What Congress decides to do or not do about the SGR affects every patient, in every state. Congress must address the Medicare Meltdown now. Physicians and patients across the country are demanding a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula.

Please join the petition drive.

Add your name to the Stop the Medicare Meltdown petition.

William H. Fleming III is President of the Texas Medical Association.