Physician groups say 6-month hold on pay cut not good enough

After a series of fitful stops and starts, Congress passed measures in late June to delay a 21 percent Medicare physician payment cut that was scheduled to take place July 1.

According to Cecil B. Wilson, MD, president of the American Medical Association, the six-month delay is only "a very temporary reprieve."

"Delaying the problem is not a solution," he said. "It doesn't solve the Medicare mess Congress has created with a long series of short-term Medicare patches over the last decade - including four to avert the 2010 cut alone."

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According to Wilson, seniors are already experiencing access problems as a result of "the complete congressional mismanagement of Medicare over the years."

"Congress is playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette with seniors' healthcare," he said.

About one in four Medicare patients looking for a new primary care physician are having trouble finding one, Wilson said. And, one in five physicians are already limiting the number of Medicare patients they treat because of the instability and uncertainty of Medicare payment.

William F. Jessee, MD, president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association said Congress continues to act "irresponsibly" in addressing the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) Medicare physician payment formula.

"This latest patch expires in November, just one month before the start of the next fiscal year for most medical groups,” Jessee said. “It throws responsible business planning for 2011 into complete disarray and occurs exactly when physicians will make the difficult decision to participate in Medicare for the coming year.”

Jessee said the MGMA would conduct extensive member research on the consequences of the Medicare reimbursement uncertainties physicians face.

"Lawmakers must understand the importance of passing permanent SGR repeal before the end of 2010,"he said.
Stuart Guterman, assistant vice president and director of the program on payment system reform at the Commonwealth Fund, agrees with Jessee.

Congress' inability to permanently fix the problem "severely threatens access [to care] as doctors stop taking Medicare seriously as a business partner," Guterman told attendees at the Healthcare Financial Management Association's ANI conference in Las Vegas this summer.

Unfortunately for physicians and their advocates, sources on Capitol Hill say Congress won't take up the SGR issue again until sometime in the late fall.