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."

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 129,000 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.

To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit
www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(www.familydoctor.org).