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Bringing your grievances to the nation’s Capitol

The Chicago Medical Society leadership went to Washington, DC, to advocate for reimbursement reform for CMS members.  Before departing, for the Feb. 15-16 trip, we reached out to the membership for its input on reimbursement reform.  We heard from many members who are struggling to keep their practices open as a result of delayed Medicaid payments and the flawed Medicare SGR formula.

During the visit, Dr. Thomas M. Anderson, CMS President, and Dr. Howard Axe, President-elect, met with one-third of our congressional delegation, and Senator Dick Durbin as well.  Concurrently, Congress was considering a permanent fix to the SGR by using the monies from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund.  Even though Senator Durbin supported this legislation, the vast majority of Congress members did not.  Consequently, Congress kicked the can down the road—for the 14th time in the last 10 years!

“Apparently Congress is not going to act until physicians simply stop seeing Medicare patients, and a full-blown crisis develops,” Dr. Anderson said.  “Our organizations pushed hard for using the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to offset the cost of repealing the SGR.

The CMS leaders expressed members’ concerns directly to Senator Richard Durbin; Representatives Mike Quigley; Danny Davis; and Jesse Jackson, Jr.; a senior staff member of House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, and a legislative aide to Rep. Mark Kirk.

While Dr. Anderson affirmed that Senator Durbin, along with Reps. Davis and Quigley, and Jackson, were supportive, “overall, we’re not happy,” he said.  He explained why:

  • Rather than simply using the OCO baseline as an offset for the accumulated SGR bad debt, and scrapping the SGR, which cuts physician payments and threatens to drive them out of the Medicare program, Congress did what it has done for the last decade—opt for a short-term solution.
  • While Congress stopped the 27.4% cut scheduled for March 1, and froze fees at current levels for the rest of the year, Congress will have to consider the issue again by December.  A permanent fix—it if ever happens—will be even more expensive then.  Also of concern, a fee freeze will be part of compromise legislation extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance.
  • It is apparent that Congress doesn’t care about doctors or Medicare patients.  If it did it would have used the OCO funding offset.  Congress’ actions are irresponsible because we are now stuck again in the terrible cycle of one short-term delay after another with no solution in sight.  And we all suffer—Medicare patients, physicians, our practices, and our employees.

Dr. Anderson asked of the legislators:  “Why place innocent lives in jeopardy before taking action?”

He reassured CMS members that back home, CMS will continue efforts in each congressional district to urge legislators to do the right thing; that is, fix the flawed SGR formula.

“I invite my fellow physicians to attend upcoming CMS legislative breakfasts and sign up for mini-internships with lawmakers, and to engage their patients in legislative issues that have direct bearing on them.”

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