AMA bills for lobbying supercommittee as high as during healthcare bill debate

The American Medical Association spent almost as much money on lobbyists this summer as it did during the height of the healthcare reform debate.

The AMA spent more than $7.2 million on lobbying in the third quarter of this year, according to disclosure records that became public Thursday. That’s a 66 percent jump over the previous quarter. 

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An AMA spokesperson said lobbying spiked because the group has been pushing the supercommittee to replace Medicare’s payment system. Repealing the formula, known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR), is always at the top of the AMA’s legislative agenda. But it has launched an especially big push with the supercommittee.

That campaign gave the AMA’s lobbyists their second-biggest quarter of the Obama administration. Only at the end of 2010 — the peak of the healthcare reform debate — did the AMA spend more on lobbying than it did this summer.

The SGR calls for automatic reductions in doctors’ Medicare payments. Without fail, Congress delays each cut just before it takes effect. The cuts then accumulate, making each temporary patch more expensive and putting doctors at risk of an increasingly big hit if Congress doesn’t intervene.

Although a permanent SGR repeal would be expensive, the AMA argues that it’s more cost-effective than continuing to offset temporary patches.

“New payment methods are needed that maintain access and encourage the delivery of high-quality care,” the AMA said Thursday in a letter to lawmakers. “Another temporary patch to avoid next year's cuts does not deliver the stability that people with Medicare need.”

The AMA was one of the few healthcare groups to significantly boost its lobbying in the third quarter. The pharmaceutical industry’s top trade group spent about $4.7 million, roughly the same as the second quarter. The American Hospital Association spent $4.8 million, compared with about $4.2 million in the second quarter.