House Dem supports lawsuit against Medicare agency over doctors' pay

A House champion of higher reimbursements for primary care physicians expressed support Monday for a lawsuit challenging the way Medicare calculates how much to pay doctors.

The Center for Primary Care in Georgia argues in its suit that the agency is breaking the law by letting specialist physicians determine how much Medicare will pay them. Primary care physicians make only about half the salaries of the top-grossing specialists in surgery and cardiology, experts say, leading to a worsening shortage of family doctors that's undermining the nation's preventive care system and driving up costs for patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "must do its rate-setting job in the public interest and not in the interest of powerful physician specialties — more transparency and fairness would be good for the health of Americans as well as our federal budget," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said in a statement. "It is for this reason that I support all efforts — whether legislative or judicial — to restore fairness in physician payments and rebalance the physician workforce in the United States."

McDermott, a physician himself, has introduced legislation that would require Medicare to take into account input from third-party analysts and not just the panel of experts from the American Medical Association. The AMA panel, known as the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), says there are other factors behind the pay discrepancy and that any increase in Medicare payments for primary care doctors will hurt specialists.