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Friday Jul 13, 2012

Senate Committee Hears Importance of Primary Care … And Not Just From AAFP

How refreshing.

We have been saying for years that primary care is the essential foundation of a successful, sustainable health care system, and the patient-centered medical home is the key to restraining costs and improving care. 

And now during a July 11 Senate Finance Committee roundtable about physician payment, we heard those same ideas being supported by other professional medical organizations.

I was privileged to represent AAFP as one of just five physician specialty societies invited to participate. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., asked the panel for suggestions on how to replace the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. Frank Opelka, M.D., (pictured with me below) associate medical director for the American College of Surgeons' Division of Advocacy and Health Policy, told the committee that the ACS has a plan to set payment updates using value-based targets.

"Is this for surgeons or other specialties as well?" Baucus asked.

"This is for patients -- all patients," Opelka replied. "Instead of being surgeon-related, it's patient-centered."

Opelka explained to the committee that the ACS would like to work with specialty organizations and other stakeholders to set physician payment updates based on specific targets. For example, he said a cancer program would not be just about oncology but also radiation therapy, surgery and primary care. Similarly, treating a digestive disease might involve gastroenterology, surgery and primary care.

"You can't get away from primary care," he said. "They're tied to every one of us."

Give the surgeons credit. They get it. They can't do it all, and they don't want to manage complex medical care. They want strong collaboration with primary care, and to have that collaboration in their communities, they need a strong primary care work force.

Opelka wasn't the only one voicing support for primary care and the PCMH. AMA president-elect Ardis Dee Hoven, M.D., an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, also stressed the importance of care coordination and the potential it holds for long-term savings.

Family physicians can talk all we want about how important we are to our nation's health care system. (And I did. You can read our official statement to the committee here.) But it was great for this influential Senate committee to hear it from our colleagues.

This was the third roundtable the committee held on physician payment, following earlier meetings with former CMS administrators and private payers. Now we have some homework to do because legislators asked us to follow up with written recommendations for replacing the SGR as well as suggestions for medical liability reform.

You can watch the hearing(www.c-span.org) in its entirety via C-SPAN.

Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., is president of the AAFP.

Posted at 03:46PM Jul 13, 2012 by Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I.

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