That Time of the Year to Address SGR

The end of the year means that it is about time for the medical community to face the yearly cut to Medicare payments. And this year a number of medical organizations went to Capitol Hill so their anger could be heard more clearly.

The end of the year means that it is about time for the medical community to face the yearly cut to Medicare payments. However, this year, physicians don’t just have to face the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), but other scheduled spending cuts to Medicare that are part of the fiscal cliff.

Last week, physician leaders from the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American College of Physicians (ACP), American College of Surgeons and the American Osteopathic Association, visited Capitol Hill to speak out against the scheduled cut to Medicare payments.

“Payments to physicians who care for Medicare patients have been nearly frozen for a decade, while the cost of caring for patients has increased by more than 20%,” John A. Lazarus, MD, president of the AMA, wrote in a statement.

They also called on Congress to replace the SGR. Since introducing the SGR in 2002, Congress has delayed the scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements every year.

“Only 12 days before their January 1 deadline, Congress continues to play a game of ‘political chicken’ with Medicare payments,” Lazarus said. “Congress’ inaction will lead to a massive 26.5% cut for physicians, in communities across the nation, who care for more than 47 million Medicare patients.”

Other representatives of the medical societies that went to Capitol Hill expressed frustration at the fact that Congress still hadn’t made any progress. Last year, Congress simply delayed the SGR cut until they could formally pass a bill early in 2012.

“This annual, unrelenting threat is increasingly destabilizing the Medicare system for patients whose doctors — especially primary care doctors — work in small- and medium-sized practices, often in underserved areas and with small or no operating margins,” Glen Stream, MD, chair of the AARP Board of Directors, said in a statement. “We need to end the uncertainty that undermines patients’ confidence in Medicare and disrupts physicians’ ability to provide ongoing care.”

According to the ACP, a three-step process was offered to bring about a permanent replacement for the SGR, which would have committees holding hearings and consulting physician membership groups to create and pass legislation to repeal the SGR for good and transition to value-based payments by the end of September 2013.

“With a full year to stop this drastic cut, it is absolutely inexcusable that Congress has failed to act, leaving Medicare patients and physicians to deal with the consequences,” Lazarus said.