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AMA Launches Multi-Million Ad Campaign For Prompt Senate Vote to Reverse Pay Cut

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 4, 2010

The American Medical Association yesterday launched a multi-million dollar print and radio campaign to persuade the Senate to permanently reverse the 21% cut in physicians' Medicare pay before the healthcare system goes into "meltdown."

"It is sad and ironic that the senators raced home to celebrate Memorial Day without first voting to preserve healthcare for active duty military members, retirees, and their families," AMA president J. James Rohack, MD, said at a news briefing.

Already, he said, a recent AMA survey of 9,000 doctors indicates that one in five have been forced to limit the number of Medicare patients in their practice, and one in three primary care physicians have already done so. Doctors are also cutting back on staff in anticipation they are now receiving less reimbursement, Rohack said.

Rohack says the AMA will run the ads, now running in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today, "as long as it's needed to get Congress to deal with this problem," he said. "The AMA will not sit silent while the Senate fails to fill its obligation to seniors and the baby boomers who begin to enter the program in just six months when the first wave turns 65."

The House voted last week 245-171 to approve a 19-month plan to stall the 21% reduction starting June 1, but the Senate left before voting and will not get another chance until Monday of next week, when it will be back from Memorial Day recess. Meanwhile, the pay cuts are in effect as of June 1.

Rohack gave an example of a real person who has already started to see the impact of the physician's pay cut.

He said the AMA just got a call from a retired nurse named Joan who needed a physician for her 72-year-old sister. "She was told that as of June 1, they were no longer accepting Medicare patients. This is a real-life example of how decisions in Washington impact real people," he said.

Rohack criticized budgetary logic in Washington, which he said seems to expect doctors to provide care that keeps people out of the hospital, relieving costs for Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital costs.

"We've provided better outpatient care, kept people healthier, done preventive screenings and that increases the Part B volumes (which pays for physicians). But there's no balance, no reconciliation of the savings of part A to pay for the increased volumes in Part B."

Rohack said that by delaying a permanent reversal of the cuts again, Congress simply digs a hole even deeper.

"Delays have only grown the problem, making it harder to fix. In 2005, physicians faced a cut of 3% and the cost of permanent reform was $49 billion. This year the cut has reached a staggering 21% and the cost of reform has more than quadrupled to over $210 billion. More delays will push permanent reform even further out of reach as the size of the cut and cost of reform skyrocket to astronomical heights."

Both the print and radio ads take the AMA's campaign to voters, urging them to call their Senators "to get back to work and fix Medicare now."


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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