AAFP Statement: Failure of ‘Doc Fix’ Endangers Elderly Americans’ Access to Health Care

Family Physicians Enraged by Congressional Inaction

Friday, May 28, 2010

Statement attributable to:
Lori Heim, MD
American Academy of Family Physicians

"Family physicians are outraged that Congress has jeopardized the health care security of millions of elderly and disabled Americans who depend on Medicare and TRICARE. By failing to pass HR 4213 by June 1, Congress has once again allowed a devastating 21 percent cut go into effect for Medicare physician payments, added to patient uncertainty about access to physician care, and created both a financial and administrative nightmare for physicians who want to serve Medicare and TRICARE patients.

Nearly one in four patients seen by family physicians is a Medicare beneficiary. Many of our members, especially in rural and medically underserved areas, are in small practices that have no margin to cover even a temporary reduction of this magnitude. Congressional inaction has crippled family physicians’ ability to continue caring for this vulnerable group of Americans and threatens the health security of hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled patients.

Today’s physicians are compensating their nurses, physician assistants and other staff with 2010 wages. They are paying for electricity, heating and water at 2010 rates. They are buying medical supplies and equipment at 2010 prices. Until today, their practices were earning 2001 income. Now, because Congress has failed to avert the 21 percent pay cut, family physicians are earning less today than they earned a decade ago.

Congress must retroactively rescind this pay cut. While a permanent fix is the only real solution, a short term patch may be necessary for Congress to replace the deeply flawed SGR formula with one that reflects actual practice costs that physicians experience. The AAFP has continued to work with Congress to find a solution, but each version of the legislation continues to be watered down. The AAFP can no longer support legislation that fails to provide stability for physicians or patients unless the positive updates extend through December 2012 with a positive differential for primary medical care.

The political gamesmanship must end. A comprehensive and stable Medicare payment system must be put in place. The time to begin that process is now."

# # #

Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 134,600 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. Follow us on Twitter,(twitter.com) and like us on Facebook. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(familydoctor.org).