AAFP Statement: Congress Should Act Now to Pass Bipartisan Medicare Legislation

Monday, June 09, 2008

Statement Attributable to:
James King, M.D.
American Academy of Family Physicians

The American Academy of Family Physicians applauds and supports efforts by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and his colleagues in both parties to ensure that America’s Medicare patients have access to health care.

Reforming America’s health care system must meet two goals: ensuring that people can afford health coverage and that physicians can continue to care for them without fear of bankruptcy.

With the introduction of the “Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008” (S. 3101.), Sen. Baucus and his colleagues have made a significant step toward meeting those goals. This bipartisan legislation calls for appropriate payment for physicians by blocking the physician pay cut scheduled to begin July 1 and by providing a 1.1 percent positive update in 2009.

Equally important, this legislation supports primary care – the foundation of a high-functioning, cost-effective health care system – by increasing support and expanding authority for the CMS Medical Home Demonstration Project. The patient-centered medical home concept will give patients access to a primary care physician who will coordinate their medical services in a complex health care system. In doing so, the medical home model of care can dramatically reduce fragmentation of care, duplication of services, patient confusion and inter-specialty miscommunication.

Moreover, the legislation continues incentives for primary care physicians to practice in rural and underserved areas, helping ensure that patients continue to have access to physicians, regardless of where they live.

In addition, this legislation offers a path to long-term solutions to the problems that plague our health care system:

  • It calls on CMS to provide confidential feedback by which physicians can measure their quality improvement efforts.
  • It provides financial incentives for physicians to implement e-prescribing – which will reduce the potential for miscommunication and medication prescribing errors – starting in 2009, and phases in penalties for failure to e-prescribe, beginning in 2011.

Physicians want to provide the best quality of care for patients. But they can do so only when they are assured that payment for such care will cover the cost of their services. By introducing legislation that overrides the formula that threatens pay cuts for physicians, Sen. Baucus and his colleagues on both sides of the partisan aisle have taken the first step.

We applaud this effort. The next step – permanently repealing the broken formula that dictates how Medicare pays physicians for their services – should follow close on its heels.

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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).