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Physicians Forecast Hot Winter on Capitol Hill

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 11, 2011

Record-breaking heat has baked parts of the nation this summer, but come winter, legislative corridors will still be sizzling. This time the heat will come from intense lobbying over how physicians are paid.

Things got underway in May when The American College of Emergency Physicians visited Congress to "enlighten" lawmakers about healthcare issues, says ACEP President Sandra M. Schneider, MD, FACEP.

The ACEP contingent called on more than half the 435 House of Representative offices and 94 of the Senate's 100 offices. They discussed everything from healthcare reform to the Sustainable Growth Rate.

The meetings were held before the contentious debt ceiling vote in July, in which Congress agreed to raise the country’s legal limit on borrowing. Earlier, this month, President Obama signed the measure, making a $2.4 trillion downpayment on the federal deficit over the next decade.

For physicians, the debt ceiling debacle may have felt like the roof caving in. "I think the debt ceiling showed how dysfunctional Washington is, on both sides of the aisle," said Schneider, an attending physician at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, and a professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester.

"These issues are all hanging over (physicians') heads," Schneider added. "Physicians are going to very, very careful to see where the funding around Medicare is, and how, when, and if they are going to get paid," Schneider says. "And we're looking to fix the SGR. That's just the debt ceiling on steroids."

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