AAFP Launches Grass-roots Campaign to Fix Medicare Payment System

Members Urged to Contact Congress About Need for Payment Reform

September 29, 2010 01:45 pm News Staff

The AAFP has launched a grass-roots campaign to convince Congress to extend the current Medicare physician payment rate for at least the next 13 months and to then pass a longer-term measure to make the Medicare payment system more equitable. Without congressional intervention, physicians face a 23 percent reduction in the Medicare payment rate on Dec. 1, and an additional cut on January 1.

The AAFP has issued a Speak Out Action Alert urging all members to send an e-mail letter provided by the Academy to their congressional representatives. The letter describes problems with the current payment system and asks legislators to extend the current Medicare payment rate "as a first step toward replacing this disruptive and outmoded formula."

To boost its efforts, the AAFP has set up a Medicare Action Center in the AAFP Marketplace at the AAFP's Annual Scientific Assembly, which begins today. More than 4,000 family physicians are gathered in Denver for the annual meeting, and AAFP staff members are encouraging them to send the Action Alert e-mail from the Assembly to express their support for a Medicare payment fix.

The current sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula is "disruptive and outmoded," says the letter. "Congress must prevent Medicare payment cuts from occurring and end the practice of enacting retroactive fixes to the sustainable growth rate."

Congress is operating under a tight timeline this year because of the midterm elections in November, which gives them little time to address Medicare issues during the so-called lame-duck session after the elections, said Kevin Burke, director of the AAFP Division of Government Relations. This makes it imperative for members of Congress to hear from their constituents, Burke said.

"Congress will have a number of important items to work on during the lame-duck session, including final appropriations for this fiscal year, deficit reduction recommendations from the president's commission, a large complicated defense authorization bill, extension of unemployment benefits and other safety net provisions, tax cut extensions, and finally, the Medicare physician payment formula," said Burke. "There will be little time and attention available for fixing the SGR, so we are asking for an extension until at least the end of the year."

Congress passed a five-month Medicare payment extension in late June that essentially postponed a steep Medicare physician payment cut while boosting the payment rate by 2.2 percent until Nov. 30. However, the Action Alert letter warns that if "payment rates are not stabilized, physicians may be forced to stop seeing Medicare patients." It urges congressional representatives to "work with members of both parties in the House and Senate to agree to an approach that stabilizes the current Medicare payment environment as the first step toward permanently replacing the SGR."