Senate to Consider Medicare Payment Fix – Make Sure Your Voice is Heard


Angela GardnerStarting this week, the Senate will take a series of critical votes on a bill, the Medicare Physicians Fairness Act of 2009 (S.1776), to abolish the flawed formula used to determine Medicare reimbursement rates. This bill is critically important to all physicians, but especially to emergency physicians who will undoubtedly see a significant increase in Medicare patients if scheduled payment cuts are enacted.

 Under the current system, physicians are scheduled to receive drastic cuts to Medicare payments starting next year. Congress understands that the scheduled cuts would devastate access to care for seniors so each year they “patch” the system by voting at the last minute to cancel the funding cut. However, even though the cut is not enacted, the total accumulated debt for physician reimbursement under Medicare continues to grow.  Picture it as a credit card with a huge balance and a high interest rate.  Congress “forgives” a payment on the debt each year, but that amount is added to the balance, and interest continues to add up.  Without action by Congress, physicians are scheduled to take a 21 percent reduction in reimbursement for Medicare patients next year, with cuts totaling 40 percent in future years. 

 Having health insurance coverage is not the same thing as having access to medical care.  All seniors over age 65 are entitled to insurance under the Medicare program.  Increasingly, however, primary care physicians and other specialists are refusing to take new Medicare patients because of low reimbursement rates. It’s not that those doctors lack compassion, it’s that many lose money on Medicare patients and a 40 percent cut in payments would make it impossible for them to continue to treat those individuals.

 With an aging population, emergency departments already anticipate an increased volume of seniors needing care.  If, however, Congress does not fix the flawed Medicare formula, that increase could be catastrophic.  Seniors unable to find doctors accepting Medicare may have no choice but to seek care in emergency departments, which the Institute of Medicine already calls “dangerously overcrowded.”

Passage of this bill would help to prevent more crowding in emergency departments, provide a reasonable level of compensation to emergency physicians, and help attract on-call specialists. This is a non-partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats claim to care equally about ensuring access to care for seniors. If our elected representatives are sincere in these views, they will take a principled stand on this issue and support S.1776 now.

You can help assure passage of this critical legislation. Contact your two U.S. Senators now and tell them to support S. 1776. Here’s how:

  • Call 1-800-833-6354 to be automatically connected to your two Senators. Urge them to support all procedural motions and final passage of S.1776.
  • Go to ACEP’s Advocacy Center  and send an e-mail urging your Senators to support S. 1776.

Now is the time to become involved. Pick up the phone and make that call.  And check back here often for updates. Working together the emergency physician community can make a difference.

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