AMA will target new ad campaign at senators

The American Medical Association (AMA) on Thursday will unveil a multimillion-dollar ad campaign aimed at pressuring waffling senators to approve a $23 billion freeze on scheduled Medicare cuts to physicians.

The print, radio and TV ads will encourage people to call their senators and urge them to prevent a 21.3 percent cut to payment rates that could force many doctors to stop accepting Medicare patients.

The House easily passed, 245-171, the so-called “doc fix” last Friday, but the Senate failed to act before the Memorial Day recess. The cuts were scheduled to go into effect on Tuesday, but the agency that oversees Medicare has asked its contractors to postpone claims processing for 10 days to give lawmakers time to retroactively freeze the rate cut.

“Senators need to hear from people in their home states to avoid a healthcare crisis caused by the Senate’s inability to take action on this critical issue,” AMA President James Rohack said in a statement. “The AMA will not sit silent while Senate inaction guts Medicare’s physician foundation.”

The House passed a 19-month fix that would give physicians a 2.2 percent pay bump for the remainder of the year and an extra 1 percent bump next year. In 2012, physicians would face a 33 percent rate cut if Congress doesn’t act again.

This is the fourth time this year that lawmakers have had to act to prevent the scheduled cuts, and physician groups have been clamoring for a permanent fix to Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. But even the House’s 19-month fix, which is unpaid for through higher taxes or spending cuts, faces a difficult time in the Senate.

One Democratic health consultant said he expects the Senate to pick up the House version when it returns from recess next week — if only because it’s the easiest thing to do.

“Everyone is truly tired of legislating the SGR over and over,” the consultant said, “and even more so, tired of the AMA.”

But others suggest the Senate is unlikely to pass such a long and costly fix when it also still needs to address unemployment insurance.

In addition, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told liberal bloggers on Tuesday that she hopes to tackle COBRA health insurance subsidies and enhanced Medicaid payments to the states after recess. Those two provisions were stripped from a tax extenders package that the House also approved Friday because they cost a combined $32 billion.