AAFP Statement: AAFP Urges Congress to Work for a Permanent SolutionTo Medicare Physician Payment, Sequestration Cuts

Wednesday, Jan. 02, 2013

Statement attributable to:
Glen Stream, MD, MBI
Board Chair
American Academy of Family Physicians

“Today’s temporary patch to the Medicare physician payment is a reprieve for elderly and disabled patients whose health care security is jeopardized by continual threats to Medicare physician payment. This is a welcome relief, but it is not the solution. The current system, with its deeply flawed sustainable growth rate formula, generates an annual, semi-annual, sometimes monthly crisis of confidence among elderly and disabled Medicare patients and their physicians.

“The legislation will freeze Medicare physician payment rates for one year, preventing the 26.5 percent cut that was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. It also will delay implementation of sequestration that would cut 2 percent from Medicare physician payment and 8 percent from discretionary funding for vital medical education programs.

“Now is the time for Congress to follow through on previous promises and commit to permanently end the ordeal of temporary patches that ultimately drive up the cost of a meaningful solution and destabilize the Medicare system. Congress must make good use of these 12 months to repeal the SGR and put a sustainable payment system in place that helps rebalance the primary care physician workforce.

“Only through payment and delivery system reforms that re-establish primary care as the foundation of our health system will we improve patients’ access to comprehensive, coordinated services that prevent illness, that manage chronic conditions and avoid complications, and that end duplication and fragmentation of services.”

“Equally important is a permanent solution to the sequestration requirements in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequestration’s 2 percent cut in Medicare physician payment undercuts the positive impact of the 12-month patch to the sustainable growth rate. Such a cut perpetuates the cycle of instability that elderly and disabled Americans have suffered for more than 10 years.

Moreover, the sequestration’s 8 percent cuts to discretionary funding for Health Professions Grants under Title VII, the National Health Service Corps and other primary care programs pose a serious threat to the future production of primary care physicians.

“Multiple studies prove that health care systems based on primary medical care have the best outcomes at the lowest cost. Numerous other studies also demonstrate that medical schools receiving support through Title VII of the Health Professions Programs produce more primary care physicians and that the National Health Service Corps encourages medical students to practice primary care in underserved areas. Imposing an 8 percent budget cut on these programs will have grave consequences to the nation’s ability to meet future demand for primary medical care.

“Congress has opened a path to assure the health security of elderly and disabled Americans by temporarily averting the more than 26 percent cut in Medicare payment for health services and delaying sequestration cuts. The AAFP calls on the 113th Congress to pass legislation that ensures Americans’ future access to high quality health care through a permanent solution to Medicare physician payment and through restoration of adequate funding for programs that produce the primary care physicians Americans need.”

Editor's Note: To arrange an interview with Dr. Stream, contact Leslie Champlin, 913-515-0763 (cell), 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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