Physician organizations blast ‘supercommittee’ inaction

November 30, 2011

The federal Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach agreement on a deficit-reduction proposal, which means that doctors still face a 27% cut in Medicare payments effective January 1. Predictably, the decision elicited strong reactions from organizations representing primary care physicians. Read what the organizations are saying on your behalf and their suggestions for future action.

Predictably, the federal Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to reach agreement on a deficit-reduction proposal, which means that doctors still face a 27% cut in Medicare payments effective January 1, elicited strong reactions from organizations representing primary care physicians.

Here’s what the organizations are saying on your behalf:

“The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has dropped the ball by failing to agree on federal budget cuts demanded by the Budget Reduction Act of 2011,” Glen R. Stream, MD, MBI, FAAFP, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), said in a statement. “In doing so, they have also condemned millions of elderly and disabled Americans to continued health insecurity.”

Stream pointed out that the committee’s inaction not only allows the continuation of the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that determines Medicare payments to doctors; it also triggers a mandatory additional 2% reduction in 2013.

“Without a comprehensive approach, Congress merely continues a cycle of threats to physician practices’ financial viability, last-minute reprieves, and continued procrastination,” he added.

Virginia L. Hood, MBBS, MPH, FACP, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP), said in a statement: “Left in the wreckage of the ‘supercommittee’ process are plans to automatically impose unprecedented cuts in healthcare programs-cuts that will within weeks endanger Medicare beneficiaries’ and military families’ access to care, and later, cause unsustainable cuts to many other critical programs to reduce disease, protect public health and safety, and ensure that patients have access to doctors.”

The ACP called for Congress to “prevent the January 1 SGR cut, stabilize physician payments, and support the transition to new physician payment models, and reform federal healthcare programs in a fiscally and socially responsible way while ensuring continued funding for critical healthcare programs.”

Peter W. Carmel, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), said in a statement: “The AMA is deeply concerned that continued instability in the Medicare program, including the looming 27% cut scheduled for January 1, will force many physicians to limit the number of Medicare and TRICARE patients they can care for in their practices. Congress has ignored the reality that short-term patches have grown the problem immensely. The cost of repealing the formula has grown 525% in the past 5 years and will double again in the next 5 years.

“The vast majority of Americans, 94%, say that the looming Medicare physician payment cut is a serious problem. Congress must act within the next few weeks to replace the Medicare physician payment formula and implement a fiscally responsible foundation for Medicare.”

The AAFP, ACP, and AMA all had expressed varying degrees of support for the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act framework offered in mid-November by Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pennsylvania). That plan had sought to stabilize the Medicare doctor payment model over several years by repealing the current formula while testing new payment and delivery models.

The AMA has posted on its Web site a “Medicare Participation Kit” that details participation, nonparticipation, and opting-out choices for doctors. Physicians have until December 31 to modify their Medicare participation status, and the organization suggests that doctors wait a few weeks, until the immediate future of the SGR is clearer, to decide on their preferred status.

When a similar cut last threatened physicians, MedicalEconomics published a series of articles containing expert advice on ways you can strengthen your practice to withstand factors beyond your control. The articles discuss front office staffing and technology (www.MedicalEconomics.com/frontoffice), practice valuation (www.MedicalEconomics.com/dividends), accounting and finances (www.MedicalEconomics.com/acct-fin), and efficiency through operations (www.MedicalEconomics.com/operations).

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