Congress will lose credibility if it fails to swiftly approve legislation that will fix Medicare's troubled payment system for doctors, said Nancy Nielsen, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, during a teleconference.
Groups push lawmakers on doc-payment fix
Lawmakers promised Medicare seniors that they will continue to have access and choice, said Nielsen, who joined leaders from AARP and the Military Officers Association of America in the teleconference. “If they fail to fulfill that promise, it calls into question Congress' ability to fulfill future commitments on [health] reform,” she said.
The House as early as Wednesday will begin consideration of the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009, a measure that would prevent a scheduled 21.2% rate decrease set to take effect next year by revamping Medicare's sustainable growth-rate, or SGR, formula, which sets payments for doctors under the program.
Such a reduction would force doctors to limit the number of Medicare and Tricare patients they treat, Nielsen said.
Meeting with reporters, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) seemed confident that the bill would pass the House. “I think there's broad agreement that we can't let doctor payments be reduced by 21%,” Hoyer said. A vote is likely to take place Thursday, he said.
The SGR is based on the economy's health, and has produced results that would have resulted in payment cuts to physicians every year since 2003. Congress has stepped in each time to enact a temporary fix so that doctors wouldn't experience additional reductions to their Medicare payments.
Holding off on a permanent fix with these “Band-Aid” approaches will continue to make the problem more expensive to fix, Nielsen warned. In 2005, the cost to permanently replace the SGR was $48 billion. Since then, it's grown to $210 billion, she said.
Responding to GOP complaints the bill would raise Medicare premiums, retired Air Force Col. Steven Strobridge, MOAA's director of government relations, said that seniors would probably accept a rise in premiums if it meant keeping their physicians.
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