Doctor groups press support for freeze on Medicare cut

The American Medical Association toned down its earlier opposition to anything other than a full repeal of the Medicare payment formula. AMA President James Rohack said in a statement that the group is “deeply disappointed” at the failure to get the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula repealed, but added that the short-term “doc fix” now under discussion would provide “temporary stability for seniors and their physicians.”

Other groups have adopted a more conciliatory approach from the start, scoring points with powerful Democrats in the process. 

“The payment proposal ... recognizes the importance of allowing for growth in the services provided by primary care physicians, especially if we are to respond to the increased demand for these services as more Americans get covered by insurance,” Ted Epperly, chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement. 

American College of Physicians President J. Fred Ralston also embraced the short-term fix.

“We are particularly pleased,” Ralston said in a statement, “that for 2012 and 2013, the update for all physician services will be held to a growth rate that is higher than the current SGR formula, and that there will be an extra allowance for primary and preventive care, with a statutory guarantee that payments could not be reduced in 2012 or 2013.”

The American College of Cardiology also weighed in Thursday.

“We strongly encourage the House of Representatives to pass the (doc fix) … contained in the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act,” ACC President Ralph Brindis said. “Four years of positive updates will provide physicians with the stability needed, while we look at real ways for true payment reform and eliminating the need for the SGR.”

The proposed “doc fix,” according to an e-mail from House leadership aide Wendell Primus obtained by The Hill, would:

  • Avoid a 21.3 percent cut to Medicare physician rates set to kick in June 1 and instead give doctors a 1.3 percent payment boost through the end of the year.
  • Provide physicians an additional 1 percent increase in 2011.
  • Offer additional increases in 2012 and 2013, based on the growth in Medicare health spending. The legislation guarantees that physicians cannot see a cut in those years. Primary care doctors would see higher payment boosts, a priority of the new health care law.

In 2014, the payment formula would revert to the current system, meaning physicians would once again face drastic cuts unless Congress acts again in the future.


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