Returning senators can expect an earful on Medicare ‘doc fix’

returning from the Memorial Day recess can expect to be under intense pressure
from their elderly constituents worried about losing access to their doctor.

steep cut in Medicare payments to physicians will go into effect shortly unless
the Senate acts to prevent what physicians’ groups are warning could be the
unraveling of the nation’s healthcare program for the elderly.

asking them to stop this year’s cut before there’s a complete Medicare
meltdown,” James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association (AMA),
said in a conference call this week with reporters. “And we’re saying bring
some sanity back to the system: Fix the [Medicare payment] formula before you
create a hole that’s too deep to climb out of.”

doctors group is pressing seniors to call their senators and urge them to
approve legislation preventing a 21.3 percent cut to Medicare payments. AMA on
Thursday launched a multi-million dollar TV, radio and print ad campaign on the

House approved legislation delaying the cut for 19 months and giving doctors
slight pay bumps in 2010 and 2011, but the Senate balked at the $23 billion
price tag and didn’t vote before the recess.

agency that oversees Medicare however has asked contractors to postpone
processing claims for 10 business days, the third time this year that the
agency has had to give lawmakers time to retroactively block the cut.

means the Senate has about a week to take action before the cuts go into

AMA wants Congress to not only prevent the cut but also scrap the Medicare
payment formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate. This is the fourth cut
scheduled this year that Congress has had to prevent – it was postponed until
Jan. 1, then March 1, then April 1 and now June 1.

with the ads, the AMA is releasing an online survey of more than 9,000
physicians showing that the short-term fixes are not sustainable.

17 percent of the respondents said they already restrict the number of Medicare
patients in their practice, mostly because they think the payment rate is too
low, more than half – 54 percent – said they would do so if Congress postpones
the cut for just four to seven months. Fifty percent said such a short-term fix
would lead them to stop taking new Medicare patients, and 31 percent said
they’d stop taking any Medicare patients.

respondents also said they’ve already cut back this year because of the
program’s instability: 60 percent said they’ve looked into opting out of
Medicare; 39 percent said they’ve delayed payments for supplies, rent and other
expenses; and 17 percent said they’ve held up paychecks or laid off or
furloughed staff.

said the scheduled cut will also hurt physicians’ ability to invest in health
information technology and quality-boosting initiatives such as care
coordination, which are important goals of health reform.

group is launching the ads in 17 states, many of which already face Medicare
access problems; they are: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine,
Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. In addition, the AMA is placing ads
in three national newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal
USA Today.

said the AMA is not targeting specific lawmakers because all lawmakers need to
take responsibility. He added that the longer Congress delays a comprehensive
fix, the more costly it gets: It would have cost $49 billion to do the fix in
2005, and more than $200 billion today.

cost of a temporary solution,” Rohack said, “now significantly exceeds what it
would have cost to implement a permanent solution just a few years ago.”


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