Medicare physician pay cut must be stopped now, AMA president tells doctors

Peter W. Carmel, MD, says there would be a massive disruption in care if Congress doesn't prevent the reduction, set to begin Jan. 1.

By Damon Adams — Posted Nov. 12, 2011

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With only weeks left before a 27.4% Medicare physician pay cut takes effect, American Medical Association President Peter W. Carmel, MD, called on doctors to keep the heat on Congress to avert the reduction.

He said doctors need to be a voice for change and push for the repeal of the sustainable growth rate formula that determines physicians' Medicare payments.

"Let's keep the pressure on. Remember, every voice counts," Dr. Carmel said in an opening-session speech on Nov. 12 at the AMA Interim Meeting at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

The pay cut is set to start Jan. 1, 2012, unless Congress acts. If the reduction occurs, there would be massive disruptions in care to the nation's elderly, disabled and military family members, Dr. Carmel said.

"Already, one in four seniors seeking a primary care physician in Medicare has difficulty finding one," Dr. Carmel told nearly 500 members of the AMA House of Delegates, the Association's policymaking body. "Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if doctors across the nation were forced to stop seeing Medicare recipients. It is simply unthinkable -- unconscionable -- that the government should choose to leave our nation's most deserving citizens out in the cold."

In his speech, Dr. Carmel highlighted some of the AMA's efforts to eliminate the SGR. Those include launching a TV and radio advertising campaign in October to urge patients and doctors to tell Congress to repeal the broken Medicare physician payment formula. Delegates watched the AMA's commercial during the opening session.

Two days before the house opened, the AMA and 112 state and national specialty medical societies sent a letter urging Congress to stop the pay cut. The letter calls on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to work on eliminating the SGR (link).

The deficit committee has until Nov. 23 to identify $1.2 trillion in savings.

"Our message seems to be getting through," he said. "The latest word from Capitol Hill is that congressmen are starting to complain about their phones ringing off the hooks."

Shaping accountable care organizations

Dr. Carmel also detailed how the AMA has worked to help shape the development of accountable care organizations. The Association recommended changes to ACO rules proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that made ACOs a viable option for physicians, he said.

Meanwhile, the AMA is continuing to demand medical liability reforms, including limits on noneconomic damages, he said.

The AMA House of Delegates is scheduled to meet through Nov. 15 and consider about 100 reports and resolutions on issues such as the national drug shortage, physician payment and health insurance exchanges.

AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, told delegates how he is working to strengthen the AMA's voice and sharpen the Association's focus. Dr. Madara, who started his new job in July, said the AMA must be a leader in helping doctors create and navigate new delivery and payment models.

The AMA also must be an authoritative but reasonable voice in establishing a sustainable health care system, he said in his opening-session speech.

"The best and most powerful way to serve the health needs of our patients is to ensure that the environments in which our physicians practice are thriving, are sustainable and are attractive to future generations," he said.

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