Wednesday Jan 18, 2012

Send Congress a Message: Fix the Medicare Payment System

After three weeks of inactivity, Congress is getting back to work -- sort of.

The U.S. House of Representatives reconvened Jan. 17 with plans to put in two working days before leaving for the rest of the week. The Senate is scheduled to return Jan. 23 after a one-month break.

Now that your legislators are finally returning to Capitol Hill, it's critical that they receive an important message from you: Get to work on fixing the broken Medicare payment system.

Just before Christmas, Congress agreed -- after much unproductive bickering -- to a two-month extension of policies, including a payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits, and the current level of Medicare payments to physicians. A conference committee tasked with addressing these issues will begin formal meetings next week.

After their lengthy break, legislators will have to act quickly because the clock already is ticking on the two-month patch. Barring another Congressional delay, a 27.4 percent Medicare payment cut would take effect March 1.

Congress already has intervened nine years in a row to delay such cuts, but it has not addressed the underlying problem. The sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula does not work, and the financial instability and uncertainty it presents keeps family physicians from planning for the long term with any confidence.

Congress has put us on hold long enough. They need to hear our message again, and stronger than ever. Tell them the impact this issue has on your practice and your ability to continue to serve Medicare patients.

On January 31, AAFP Board Chair Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., and President-elect Jeffrey Cain. M.D., will be in Washington -- along with leaders from the American College of Physicians, the American College of Surgeons and the American Osteopathic Association -- to speak with as many members of the conference committee as possible about repealing the SGR.

AAFP leaders, including myself, will be in Washington for follow-up meetings with legislators in mid-February.

But your Academy also needs your help. I am asking you to contact your members of Congress on this important issue. The message lawmakers need to hear from physicians is a simple one:

  • the SGR must be repealed;
  • if the conference committee decides it does not have the time or authority to create an alternative payment system to replace the SGR, any extension should be at least three to five years to give CMS and others time to test alternative payment models; and
  • within this extension, primary care physicians should receive a higher payment differential.

 I urge you to contact your senators and representatives and tell them to repeal the SGR. Together, we can make a difference.

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