AARP Joins Physician Groups In Blasting Congress For Inaction On Medicare Payment Fix

The failure of Congress to act on the Medicare “doc fix” has led to protests from medical organizations and the American Association of Retired People who have pointed out the harm this will do to the Medicare program and people dependent upon Medicare for their health care. The American Academy of Family Practitioners has called on Congress to stop harming patients and do their job. The American College of Physicians has blasted Congress for causing “Irreparable damage to Medicare” as seniors and military families face loss of access to health care. AARP sent the following letter to every member of Congress urging action on Medicare, warning that their inaction “threatens access to physician services for millions of Medicare beneficiaries.”

On behalf of millions of AARP members, I urge you to immediately pass legislation that ensures seniors have access to their physicians, and provides much needed fiscal relief to the states and to unemployed individuals.

Regrettably, given Congress’s failure to reach timely agreement on a Medicare physician pay package, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has now been forced to implement a draconian 21.3 percent reduction in their reimbursements.  This cut threatens access to physician services for millions of Medicare beneficiaries – especially those living in rural and other underserved areas.

While Congress continues to debate temporary patchwork solutions, people on Medicare are growing increasingly anxious about whether they will be able to find a doctor when they need one.  Seniors, who have paid into Medicare their entire working lives, deserve the peace of mind of knowing they will be able to find a doctor who will treat them.

AARP urges Congress to act immediately to stabilize doctor reimbursement rates for as long as possible until a permanent solution can be found.   For nearly a decade, Medicare patients and the doctors who treat them have been held hostage by short-term patches to an unworkable Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula.  In the months to come, we look forward to working with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to repeal the SGR formula and replace it with a permanent physician payment system for Medicare that rewards value and ends the uncertainty for patients and providers alike.

In addition, enhanced Medicaid funding to states to assist them with the added costs of providing health coverage to low income individuals and for home and community based services must be extended.

Finally, we urge the extension of unemployment benefits for those unable to find jobs during this economic downturn.

AARP members are counting on you to address these critical issues immediately to protect their health and economic security.

Congress Plays Chicken With Medicare

Medical blogs have been protesting the failure of Congress to resolve this problem. For example, Dr. Rob warns that Congress is playing “a great big game of chicken.”

  • The house is playing chicken with the senate.
  • The Democrats are playing chicken with the Republicans.
  • They aren’t in the cars themselves, we are.  Doctors and patients are careening toward destruction in the name of political gamesmanship.

Surely they will flinch.  Surely someone will understand the consequences of the crash.  But you know what?  Sometimes each side expects the others will be the ones who flinch.  Sometimes nobody flinches.  Sometimes the cars crash and people are killed.

There are two potential ways to resolve this deadlock. The quickest would be for Nancy Pelosi to go along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), the Chair of the Education and Labor health panel, and allow the House to vote on the temporary fix passed in the Senate last week.

Nancy Pelosi has been insisting on a different course by attaching the Medicare “doc fix” to other unrelated legislation. The Senate is attempting to pass legislation which includes some of Pelosi’s goals, but it is questionable if the Senate could pass such legislation without watering it down to the point where Pelosi would not find it acceptable.

For Nancy Pelosi to be the one who, at present, is blocking passage of this legislation might be political suicide for the Democrats, risking turning over control of Congress to the Republicans in November. The Democrats are already on shaky ground with seniors. As Ezra Klein pointed out earlier today, health care reform has become more popular since passage–except with seniors. The Democrats cannot afford to further alienate the senior vote, which tends to turn out more heavily in off year elections than the younger voters who are more likely to stick with the Democrats.

American Academy of Family Practitioners Calls on Congress To Stop Harming Patients By Failing To Pass Payment Fix

The American Academy of Family Practitioners has called on Congress to stop harming patients and do their job. The text of their statement follows:

“The House and Senate are pulling the rug out from under millions of Americans who depend on Medicare and TRICARE for their health care coverage.

“This squabbling is intolerable. Political infighting over the Medicare physician payment fiasco has gone on far too long. It threatens access to care for elderly and disabled patients and for members of our armed services and their families. It seriously undermines physician confidence that Medicare will reliably pay for the services already rendered. It undercuts the foundation on which health care reform is to be built.

“For many rural and underserved communities, family physicians are the only health care professionals. They have operated on razor thin margins since Medicare payment stagnated nine years ago. The 21 percent pay cut that went into effect June 1 has pushed their Medicare compensation to levels they haven’t seen since 1994. Now these physicians — often the only source of health care in rural and underserved areas — face the possibility of cutting their staff, missing payroll, and limiting the number of Medicare and TRICARE patients they can accept.

“Congress must stop harming patients and act on legislation that retroactively restores the 21 percent Medicare payment cut with a formula that provides stability to the system. They must stop playing with the lives of constituents with the one-upmanship and political scorekeeping. They must pass legislation that ends these outrageous political games that puts the health and welfare of millions of Americans at risk.”

American College of Physicians Blasts Congress For Causing “Irreparable damage to Medicare”

The American College of Physicians has released the following statement protesting the failure of Congress to continue Medicare payments on schedule in June, blasting Congress for causing “Irreparable damage to Medicare” as seniors and military families face loss of access to health care:

Today,  the  Senate  and  House  remain  at loggerheads on  how to reverse  a devastating  cut  in Medicare and TRICARE payments to physicians.

Today, Medicare  claims are being processed, retroactive  to June 1, with a 21 percent  cut, which is not enough to even begin to cover the costs of delivering care.

Today, tens of thousands of  physician  practices are facing the real possibility that they will have to lay‐off staff, miss payroll, limit how many Medicare and military families they can accept, or even close their doors.

Today, millions of America’s seniors and military families are finding that Medicare no longer is a reliable or stable partner.

And  each  and every day  that the cut remains in effect, more and more seniors and military families will find that they can’t get an appointment with a doctor.

Each and every day  the cut remains in effect, physicians will continue to lose confidence in the ability of Congress, the President, and  both political parties to do the right thing by patients.

This loss of trust in government not only harms Medicare and TRICARE, but threatens to undermine physicians’ confidence in the federal government’s ability to manage health care reform effectively.

It  is past time  for politicians from both political parties and both chambers to stop blaming someone else for the impasse. Physicians and patients don’t want to hear that it is the Democrats’ fault, or the Republicans’, or the President’s, or the Senate’s, or the House’s. They don’t want to hear politicians claim that they are for repealing the SGR, as they withhold their vote from any practical plan to achieve repeal.

They want to hear that the people they elected can work together to solve the problem.

They want to hear that the House and Senate have resolved their differences and enacted legislation to immediately reverse the 21 percent cut and make physicians whole for the damage already done.

They want to hear that  members of Congress, on a bicameral and bipartisan  basis, have agreed on a long‐term solution to replace the unworkable SGR. Such a solution, at a minimum, would provide stable, reliable and positive payments or all services that cover physicians’ costs, provides for higher updates for primary care visits and preventive services, and lead to repeal of the SGR.

Absent such agreement, physicians and their patients will continue  to lose faith  in Medicare and TRICARE, causing potentially irreparable and permanent damage to both programs.