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Friday Dec 23, 2011

SGR Patch Helps, but Medicare Payment Issue Requires Permanent Solution

In what could pass for a holiday miracle, members of Congress finally decided to play nice with each other -- one week after they were scheduled to adjourn and a little more than a week before a 27.4 percent cut in Medicare payments was scheduled to take effect.

The House and Senate reached a short-term compromise and passed a bill http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/media/releases/2011newsreleases-statements/medicare-payment-patch-fails.html Dec. 23 that delays a Medicare pay reduction for 60 days and extends the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for the same amount of time.

Although the short-term solution obviously is preferable to a 27.4 percent cut in physician payments -- which could threaten the viability of many of our practices and jeopardize access to care for the more than 47 million Americans covered by Medicare -- it is a far cry from what the AAFP has been advocating.

Our goals remain unchanged. We continue to call for a repeal of the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula, a period of at least three to five years of payment stability, and at least a 3 percent positive payment differential for primary care compared to other specialties.

If this perpetually gridlocked Congress learned anything this year -- while its approval rating dipped to 11 percent -- it should be that Americans are tired of short-term, insufficient answers to long-standing problems.

This is the ninth consecutive year that Congress has had to step in at the last minute to give physicians a reprieve from a threatened Medicare payment cut. Each reprieve makes a long-term solution more costly. Isn't it time legislators stopped giving us short-term patches and actually worked on a permanent solution?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, more than 2,400 of you responded to the Academy's grassroots advocacy campaign this fall. When Congress reconvenes in January, I will be asking for your help once again. We not only will have to delay the payment cut, which now looms in March, we will need to hammer home to Congress that it must fix this problem once and for all.

This year the Academy's membership topped 100,000. Just imagine more than 300,000 messages flooding Capitol Hill as each of us contact our representative and two senators. What a powerful message we can send to Congress.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.