TMA Urges Bipartisan Medicare Fix

In the face of a report that federal officials plan to cut Medicare payments to physicians by just under 30 percent in 2012, the Texas Medical Association joined the American Medical Association and other state medical societies to urge Congress to "begin working in a bipartisan, bicameral manner" to eliminate the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula "and lay the groundwork for adoption of broader physician payment and delivery reforms."

"Last year, Congress was required to act five times to pass short-term measures (for as short as one month) to stop Medicare physician payment cuts scheduled for 2010," the groups said in a letter to Congress. "On three occasions Congress failed to act before cuts were implemented, causing disruptions in processing Medicare payments. These payment uncertainties and delays created serious problems for many physician practices and jeopardized seniors' access to care."

Ultimately, the letter said, "Congress and the Administration worked together in a bipartisan manner" to stop the planned fee cuts and stabilize Medicare physician payments through 2011. "It is our hope that Congress can again work together this year to end the cycle of temporary patches once and for all and develop a long-term and meaningful solution to this issue."

The letter reminded lawmakers that throughout the past year both Republican and Democratic members and President Obama said they supported eliminating the SGR, as did the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and the president's 2012 budget.

"The physician community is committed to taking a leading role in developing and pilot testing payment and delivery reforms that can provide a foundation for replacing the SGR and improving the Medicare physician payment system," the letter said. "We look forward to building upon last year's bipartisan effort to permanently replace the SGR with a workable system that keeps pace with practice costs and ensures that seniors, the disabled, and military families receive the high quality care that they have been promised for years to come."

TMA President Susan Rudd Bailey, MD, says that "having a one-year reprieve from catastrophic SGR cuts has its advantages and disadvantages. It has stabilized the payment system temporarily, but it can also foster a sense of complacency about how much time we have this year to come up with an alternative payment mechanism for Medicare."

"I am concerned that 2011 is slipping away quickly, and if we don't act this year, the cuts in 2012 will be catastrophic. I am also concerned that if we keep kicking this can down the road another year or two, the Independent Payment Advisory Board will have the authority to make payment cuts on its own," she said.

Action, March 15, 2011