The AMA needs your help to stop Medicare pay cuts
■ A message to all physicians from the president of the American Medical Association, J. Edward Hill, MD.
By J. Edward Hill, MD — is a family physician from Tupelo, Miss., was AMA board chair during 2002-03 and served as AMA president during 2005-06. Posted Sept. 19, 2005.
If you're a physician, during the week after Labor Day you should have received a postcard about Medicare from the American Medical Association.
If you read it, you know how powerful its message is. If you haven't, do so now.
As you can see, the card depicts a medical school diploma shattered by a scalpel -- and with it, this message: "Medicare payment cuts won't just hurt your career. They can kill it."
Sharp words. And all too accurate. But what's most important about this groundbreaking AMA mailing is not just that it highlights the coming Medicare crisis, but that it points all physicians towards a real solution.
That solution is action. From the AMA. From physicians. Even from Medicare patients themselves.
Let's start with the AMA.
For months, the AMA has been lobbying on this issue -- and hard. We've created allies and fostered partnerships in both houses of Congress and across all political parties. We've given vocal support to legislation aimed at fixing the cuts.
In short, we've worked harder than ever before to bring this issue to the forefront of Capitol Hill.
However, members of Congress have told us that they need to hear, not just from AMA lobbyists and leaders, but from physicians on the front lines of care.
The AMA listened to their advice. That's why we mailed our Medicare postcard to more than 900,000 physicians and future physicians, members and nonmembers. That's why we wrote the following words on the back of the card:
"You became a doctor to help people. Now Congress may force you to turn them away. Severe Medicare payment cuts, 26% over the next six years, mean fewer of us will be able to afford to treat Medicare patients. The AMA is working aggressively to stop these cuts, but now Congress needs to hear directly from physicians like you."
The postcard then instructs physicians to call their representatives through the AMA hotline (800-833-6354) or to send them an e-mail through the AMA Grassroots Action Center (link).
Either way, physicians can express their support of bipartisan legislation (S 1081, HR 2356 and HR 3617) that would reverse the planned payment cuts and prevent a crisis. Both the AMA Grassroots Action Center and the AMA hotline offer physicians a simple, straightforward roadmap for action -- and activism.
So please use them. We need your voice now more than ever.
But the AMA's call to action doesn't end with physicians -- any more than it ends with our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.
We also are asking -- and getting -- America's patients to help.
Take our National House Call.
Since June, the AMA National House Call has traveled to Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. In each state we've educated the public about how looming Medicare cuts will create access problems for many seniors and people with disabilities.
Everywhere we've visited, we've shouted the message: If Congress does not act, Medicare payments to physicians will plummet well below the cost of providing care, forcing physicians to make difficult, even untenable, practice decisions.
We've spread this message through a variety of means and media.
We've run patient-focused ad campaigns on the radio and in print. These ads make clear how Medicare payment cuts will reduce access to care for seniors and the disabled.
We've won wide-ranging -- and sympathetic -- news and editorial coverage from the local and national media.
Our hope is to inspire patients, as well as physicians and legislators, to help us stop the Medicare payment cuts that are scheduled for January 2006 -- and beyond.
Thus far, our plan seems to be working. Approximately 750,000 patients have signed up for our Patients Action Network (link) and are helping us with the Medicare payment issue, as well as other issues of critical importance to medicine.
You can help us get even more patients on board. Simply go to the AMA Web site for a free Medicare Physician Payment Action kit (link).
Whatever you do, please keep in mind that action is key. So let's review what you can do:
Contact your representatives in Congress, either by phone (800-833-6354) or over the Internet (link). Ask them to support bipartisan legislation (S 1081, HR 2356 and HR 3617) that would reverse the planned payment cuts.
Get your patients involved. Download a Medicare Physician Payment Action Kit (link), review it and use it in your office or clinic.
If we want to continue serving our elderly and disabled patients in viable medical practices, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must take action, and we must take it now.
Congress has asked that we give them a sign of our concern and our commitment. So let your voice be heard and inspire others to join you.
It's a more powerful tactic than you'll ever know.
J. Edward Hill, MD is a family physician from Tupelo, Miss., was AMA board chair during 2002-03 and served as AMA president during 2005-06.