AAFP Statement: Vote Grants Reprieve on Pay Cut but Permanent Solution Required

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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

"The House vote this afternoon to retroactively repeal the 21 percent Medicare physician pay cut and retroactively provide a 2.2 percent increase through Nov. 30 is the most recent move in what has become a painful political chess game. At stake is access to health care for 44 million elderly and disabled Americans and 1.4 million members of the military and their families.

"Although today's vote provides a reprieve from ruinous pay cuts that threaten the financial viability of primary care physicians' practices and -- therefore -- their patients' access to care, it is not a satisfactory way to provide long-term stability to Medicare. Piecemeal approaches merely continue the uncertainty about the reliability of Medicare. The stability of federal payment is crucial to the success not just of Medicare but health reform as well. The health reform legislation calls on physicians to invest in changing their practices with health information technology, with new practice models that take time and money to implement, with new accountability standards and performance measurement reporting. Physicians can't invest in change if they can't count on payment for their services.

"Medicare payment to primary care physicians has stagnated at 2001 levels. And now the 21 percent pay cut has pushed their Medicare payment to levels they haven't seen since 1994. When Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries constitute as much as one-third of their patient population, primary care physicians cannot sustain their practices paying 2010 overhead costs with 1994-level compensation.

"As the representative of 94,700 family physicians and medical students, the AAFP calls on Congress to permanently repeal the sustainable growth rate formula that requires double digit pay cuts well into the future, increases the ultimate cost of meaningful Medicare physician payment reform, and threatens access to care for elderly and disabled patients and our armed services families.

"The chess game must end. It's time for legislation that permanently re-establishes the reliability of Medicare for patients and the physicians who serve them."

Editor’s Note: To arrange an interview with Dr. Heim, contact Leslie Champlin, 800-274-2237, Ext. 5224, or lchampli@aafp.org.

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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.

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