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Medicare cuts to physicians threaten patient access and physicians’ stability

istock

America’s physicians are among the everyday heroes who consistently go above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of their communities. They dedicate many years to intense education and training before entering the field, and often face long hours and high stress levels once they begin practicing. 

Through their tireless efforts, countless lives have been saved and many others improved—major reasons why medical doctors are considered the most respected profession in the United States.  

As physicians, we can say with confidence that the desire to make a difference by providing meaningful care to patients is almost always the primary motivation for pursing such a career.  

Unfortunately, most physicians today will tell you that they do not get to spend enough time with patients. Shifting regulations, burdensome paperwork, and regularly changing reimbursement rates require them to spend significant amounts of time on administrative activities.  

In 2015, Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) with the intent of moving away from a payment model that rewarded physicians for delivering higher volumes of procedures toward a system that would ensure they were paid for the value of the work they do to keep patients healthy. It has become clear, however, that additional reforms are necessary to accomplish this goal. 

Under MACRA, an annual publication known as the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule ultimately determines the amounts physicians are paid for services delivered to Medicare patients. Unfortunately, in recent years it has contributed to substantial reimbursement cuts for many providers. This year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will implement an additional across-the-board reimbursement cut of 4.42 percent. 

The last thing our country’s medical providers need right now is a severe cut to Medicare reimbursement, which has the potential to increase health care costs overall and further limit access to quality care. 

While we believe that more fundamental reforms are necessary to address the Medicare physician reimbursement structure at large, Congress must also ensure predictability for doctors in the short term. 

To that end, we have introduced the Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022 (H.R. 8800), a must-pass bill that would delay the proposed cuts for one year while also signaling Congress’s commitment to a long-term policy solution. 

We all know how difficult the last few years have been. Health systems have been overwhelmed, inflation has soared, and economic instability is on the rise. At the same time, more Americans need access to care. Outpatient volume is increasing as more patients return to doctors’ offices after putting off routine screenings, treatments and preventive services. These delays are not without consequences: patient acuity has gotten worse, driving up costs for hospitals and physicians.  

And these challenges will only increase as the country grows greyer. America’s population of seniors rose by one-third between 2010 and 2020 and this demographic shift will continue to accelerate. By the middle of the next decade, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans age 65 or older will eclipse the number of individuals under 18 for the first time in history.  

It is against this dire backdrop of the facts and realities that physicians are struggling. CMS has announced this slash in Medicare rates for physician services despite the other fields in our health care delivery system receiving upward payment adjustments. It just doesn’t make any sense. 

Not only do doctors deserve to be paid fairly for the cost of the care they provide; patients deserve the consistency and predictability of reliable health care services. For that to be possible, we must work to ensure that all physician practices are able to operate in a financially sustainable manner. 

We were both physicians before we joined Congress and are acutely aware of how Medicare cuts like this can wreak major havoc on doctors and their practices. With the deadline to act rapidly approaching, lawmakers must join us to do everything we can to provide stability to this vital sector. We know we can count on our colleagues from across the political spectrum to help support seniors’ continued access to care. 

Larry Bucshon, M.D., represents the 8th District in Indiana and Ami Bera, M.D., represents the 6th District in California. 

Tags medicare cuts Medicare physician payment system

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