AAFP Statement: 12-month Medicare Payment Extension Sets the Stage for Permanent Solution

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Statement attributable to:
Roland Goertz, MD, MBA
American Academy of Family Physicians

Medicare beneficiaries can breathe a bit easier — at least for one year — about access to physicians, thanks to Congress’ passage of a one-year extension of the Medicare physician payment rates.

Today’s vote will temporarily end the series of short-term patches that have plagued doctors and their patients throughout 2010. It is, however, only one step toward a permanent solution to the flawed sustainable growth rate formula that threatens deep Medicare payment cuts and the financial viability of primary care physician practices.

Family physicians cannot sustain practices in an environment with both stagnated Medicare payment and monthly or semi-monthly threats of deep cuts in Medicare reimbursement. A recent American Academy of Family Physicians survey found that a 25 percent cut in Medicare payment would threaten elderly and disabled patients’ access to needed health care. Nearly three in four survey respondents would be forced to limit the number of Medicare appointments they could schedule and more than six in 10 would have to stop accepting new Medicare patients.

During the next 12 months, the physician community and Congress must work together to put an SGR patch in place for three to five years that will include a differential payment for primary care physicians. Additionally, we must collect data on different payment models, establish further support for the patient-centered medical home care delivery model and analyze the impact of accountable care organizations. We firmly believe these data will confirm previous studies that demonstrated improved outcomes and quality of care and will lead to evidence-based recommendations on how to restructure physician payment permanently.

Only by redesigning Medicare physician payment to energize and support primary care, preventive health services, and communication among the patient’s health care team will we gain control over unnecessary costs, duplication and fragmentation and meet the ultimate goal our health care system should have — excellent health for people.

Editor’s Note: To schedule an interview with Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, please contact Leslie Champlin, 800-274-2237, Ext. 5224, or lchampli@aafp.org.

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest 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(familydoctor.org).