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AMA Wants Permanent Fix on Physician Pay Issue

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 11, 2010

The president of the American Medical Association criticized the Senate's vote on Wednesday to delay a 21.2 % physician pay cut in Medicare until October 1, saying it is "pushing the problem off into the near future."

The House has yet to act on the bill. "If the House adopts this Senate bill, America's seniors and their physicians will be left in limbo and access to healthcare for Medicare patients will continue to be in grave danger," said AMA president James Rohack, MD, in a statement.

"Physicians cannot keep their practice doors open to all Medicare patients without clear direction from Congress on Medicare payment rates," Rohack said.

The AMA, similar to other physician groups, wants Congress to enact a permanent "fix" on the physician pay cut issue.

"Short-term actions are the wrong answer to a long-term problem," Rohack said. "These Band-Aid fixes have only served to increase the size of the cuts and the cost of reform."

"The longer Congress delays the higher the cost to the American taxpayer. It's time to fix the formula and ensure that seniors can count on Medicare now and for years to come."

The Senate included an amendment by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act that would delay the Medicare payment cut for physicians—that was supposed to go into effect March 1— until October 1.

The Medicare payments were scheduled to be cut across the board in accordance with the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. The proposed delay may give Congress time to adjust the SGR formula. SGR links Part B Medicare reimbursement to the gross domestic product. The formula has led to proposed large cuts annually, which physicians have successfully worked to delay.

"Already Medicare payment rates are far below the costs of providing patient care, and physicians are left wondering how they can continue to run a medical practice if Congress does not inject security and stability into the Medicare program," Rohack said.

The AMA stated that the Baucus bill appeared to be a compromise between senators who wanted to implement a one-year payment fix and others were seeking another "short bridge" to give Congress more time to possibly repeal the formula that calls for annual physician payment cuts.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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