This week the 113th Congress will reconvene for a short lame-duck session to complete work on pending matters and organize for the 114th Congress. While the most pressing matter is the need to fund the Federal government, there is one additional item that I believe is deserving of legislative action – the SGR or as it is commonly referred to, the “doc-fix.”
We all know the script. Unless Congress acts by some date in the near future, payments to Medicare participating physicians will be cut by 20-plus percent and access to physician services for seniors, the disabled and military families will be jeopardized. Any additional cuts to physician payments, which are already irresponsibly below actual costs, would force an economic reaction by physicians and physician groups and that reaction would not be positive for our nations Medicare beneficiaries. Very few people argue the validity of these arguments and neither does Congress.
Each year (sometimes more than once per year), for the past 12 years, Congress has intervened to prevent dramatic cuts in Medicare payments, thus preserving access to care for seniors and other beneficiaries. The most recent intervention took place in March. In total, there have been 17 “doc-fixes” at a cumulative cost of $169.5 billion. It is time for Congress to exile this flawed policy from our national health policy conversation once and for all. It is time that we move forward with our eyes cast on what is possible in health care policy unburdened by a failed 1997 policy that has haunted our progress for almost 20 years.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan, bicameral bill was produced and approved by the Finance, Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce Committees. To quote Will Farrell in Old School, “it was glorious.” Every physician organization in the country endorsed the bill and optimism grew that we were close to ridding the Medicare program of this failed policy. While there was a valiant effort made to pass the legislation earlier this year, the conversation around how to pay for the legislation precluded definitive action and Congress passed another short-term bill preventing any cuts until March 31, 2015.
But, why should we wait until March to revisit this issue? There are 4 compelling reasons why Congress should act during the lame-duck:
So, here we are. We have a bipartisan, bicameral bill authored by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Committees of jurisdiction that is supported by all of organized medicine. The cost of repeal and reform is at an all-time low and is less than the cumulative cost of Congressional action over the past 12 years. The election is over and there is a growing desire to address this issue in the lame-duck session which was demonstrated in recent letters from the House Doctors Caucus, the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation, and a letter signed by over 100 Members of the House. The reasons to pass the legislation in the next few weeks far outweigh the reason not to. So, to quote Eminem, “if you had one shot, or one opportunity….would you capture it or just let it slip?”
R. Shawn Martin is vice president of Practice Advancement & Advocacy at American Academy of Family Physicians.