The AAFP has issued a Speak Out Action Alert asking members to contact their representatives in the House and Senate to tell them that family physicians should no longer have to operate with a payment system based on the flawed sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula.
Unless Congress acts, the SGR will require a 21.2 percent cut in Medicare payment rates as of March 1.
"With health care reform nearing final passage, it's time to permanently fix the SGR," says a message about the Action Alert on the AAFP's Connect for Reform Web page. "We need a lasting solution that replaces this formula with physician payment updates tied to inflation rather than specified targets." (Editor's Note: Connect for Reform's successor, Connect for Family Medicine, was discontinued in May 2013.)
"Many of America's family physician practices are small businesses. While they are committed to seeing their long-time patients, declining Medicare payments will make it unaffordable for them to take new Medicare patients," says the Action Alert letter.
AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C., says the short-term patch "limits innovation and the ability of physicians to be able to predict what their income will be."
"Our goal is to have the SGR fixed permanently," said Heim in an interview with AAFP News Now. "It is really up to Congress to decide whether they want to include it within the health care reform legislation or in a separate bill."
Heim, meanwhile, is convinced that AAFP members can play a role in convincing Congress to replace the SGR formula. "When our members write in and explain how this affects their patient populations, it is very powerful," she said.
Heim worries that AAFP members may get discouraged if Congress provides only a temporary payment patch without replacing the SGR formula. "When you send your troops into battle," said Heim, "they need to know they have a chance of winning. I have a real concern that at some point our members will just say 'I am not going to win, and so I am withdrawing from Medicare.'"