Government News
AMA Warns of Consequences of Delaying Medicare Fix
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 11 page 9-9

As yet another deadline for Congressional action on Medicare physician payment neared last month, the AMA rolled out an advertisement aimed directly at lawmakers who will again face that issue.

The ad emphasizes that further delays of a permanent reform to fix the physician payment formula will increase the cost for taxpayers over time. It appeared in three Capitol Hill newspapers read widely by congressional staff and ran throughout May as the new June 1 deadline for congressional action approached at press time.

A 21 percent across-the-board cut in Medicare physician fees had been due to go into effect on April 1. But in the midst of legislative maneuvering around the health care reform bill approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Obama in March, legislators extended the deadline for the payment cut to June 1 (Psychiatric News, April 2).

The AMA says repeated short-term fixes have caused the price of reform to more than quadruple—from $49 billion in 2003 to the current projection of $210 billion. The new ad pictures a child's growth chart starting with today's price tag and spiraling up to $396 billion in three years and $513 billion in five years if the problem is not addressed now.

"Short-term patches of any length create instability in the Medicare system for seniors and their physicians and hurt health care access for patients," said AMA President J. James Rohack, M.D., in a statement. "We urge Congress to seize this opportunity to fix the flawed payment formula before the June 1 deadline, when this year's 21 percent cut begins."

"It's critical that Congress replace the flawed formula with one that better reflects the costs of providing 21st-century medical care," he continued. "It took until 2009 for Medicare physician payment rates to catch up to where they were in 2001, while the cost of caring for seniors has increased by more than 20 percent. Physicians cannot continue caring for all Medicare patients if Congress continues to enact temporary patches that freeze payments at 2001 rates."

Then-APA President Alan Schatzberg, M.D., said the AMA ad pointedly demonstrates that further delay on fixing the payment formula can result only in greater costs to taxpayers in the future.

"It is time to finally fix the structural problem in the Medicare payment formula that in the end only limits seniors' ability to access care," he said.

APA Director of Government Relations Nicholas Meyers added, "This will be the fourth short-term postponement of a 21 percent Medicare pay cut in 2010 alone. APA members are weary of Congress's repeated failures to permanently fix the SGR problem. Every time Congress postpones the formula-driven cut, the cost of permanently fixing the SGR goes up. It's long past time for our legislators to take care of the problem." blacksquare

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