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Monday Oct 07, 2013

When Congress Is Ready to Listen, We're Ready to Talk

What a week this could have been.

I'm making my first visit to Washington as the AAFP's President-elect, but the agenda is a little thin. My schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday shows a trip to the White House, meetings with legislators and staff from both houses of Congress -- and both political parties -- as well as discussions with leaders from three federal agencies.

Instead, like most Americans, I'm waiting for federal employees to go back to work and for members of Congress to stop pointing fingers and start solving problems. The perpetual problem we had hoped to discuss with legislators -- one Congress created -- is the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. For the first time, Congress actually seemed to be taking clear steps toward replacing the flawed Medicare formula before the government shutdown Oct. 1. In July, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a Medicare physician payment bill that would abolish the SGR. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to release its own version, or at least it was before things ground to a halt last week.

Without congressional intervention, the SGR will trigger a nearly 25 percent reduction in Medicare physician payments Jan. 1. Rest assured, we will reschedule our meetings with legislators and continue our advocacy efforts as soon as Congress stops is intransigence.

      In addition to our meetings with legislators, Academy leaders were scheduled to meet this week with representatives from

  • the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to discuss primary care research;
  • the CMS Innovation Center to discuss studies related to the patient-centered medical home model; and
  • the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to discuss meaningful use regulations.

With roughly 800,000 federal workers furloughed, those meetings won't happen this week either.

I am disappointed but not discouraged. There will be another day to deliver family medicine's message.

How will the shutdown affect our patients and our practices? Will the prospect of resolving the SGR again be delayed by the process of resolving our budgetary crisis?

For now, there are a more questions than answers. In the past few days, taking care of a critically ill 2-year-old in my ER and seeing patients in my office has made the problems in Washington seem secondary, at least for a few precious moments. We are on the right path, creating access for our patients and providing high quality primary care one patient at a time.

We will get through this, and when Congress is ready to listen, we definitely will be ready to talk.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is President-elect of the AAFP.

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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.