AMA mum on permanent 'doc fix' offsets

The top U.S. doctor group is staying silent on how best to pay for fixing Medicare's flawed physician payment system after lawmakers unveiled a reform framework last week.

The American Medical Association (AMA) said Monday that it supports the bipartisan, bicameral proposal but would not comment on pay-fors until lawmakers offer their own ideas. 

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"We are going to wait to offer an opinion until we see what the proposal package would look like," said AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven on a call with reporters. "We have to wait until they present us with a proposal."

The comments underscore the fragile nature of negotiations over how to pay for the roughly $150 billion permanent "doc fix." Industry players, especially hospitals, are loathe to undergo more cuts in the name of greater pay stability for Medicare doctors.

Last week's announcement of legislation to repeal the sustainable growth rate intensified an already heated lobbying battle on Capitol Hill.

Hoven said her group would be in close contact with lawmakers over the next several weeks, urging them to pursue the overhaul before the current "doc fix" expires on April 1.

The AMA will also launch a paid media campaign in support of SGR repeal, one official said.

"The whole concept of continued patching is fiscally irresponsible," said Hoven. "It undermines continually the stability of the program."

Physicians who treat Medicare patients are facing a pay cut of about 24 percent unless lawmakers act before the end of March. For more than a decade, Congress has averted similar reductions with short-term patches.

Hoven on Monday implicitly pushed back at a proposal from House Republicans to attach a nine-month "doc fix" to legislation raising the debt ceiling.

"If we keep opposing it or keep delaying it, is it going to make the process any easier?" she said.

The idea was abandoned Monday after pushback by lawmakers and doctor groups who want permanent SGR reform, according to aides.