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Concerns About Patient Access Remain

Washington, DC – The Alliance of Specialty Medicine soundly rejected MedPAC’s approval of a recommendation that Congress reform the Medicare reimbursement system by reducing reimbursements to specialists by 5.9% per year for three years, while freezing the reimbursement rate for primary care physicians.

“I am baffled”, remarked Dr. Alex Valadka, a neurosurgeon from Austin, TX and spokesperson for the Alliance.  “Its as if MedPAC sees no linkage between Medicare reimbursement and access to care for patients.”

The MedPAC proposal was unveiled last month as part of a plan to reform the Medicare reimbursement system, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), with recommended offsets.   Under the proposal, Congress would repeal the SGR and replace it with a ten-year path of statutory updates.  Primary care services’ reimbursement rates would be frozen over the next ten years and all other services would be reduced by 5.9% per year for three years and then followed by a freeze in reimbursement rates for the remaining seven years. 

The Alliance responded in a letter to MedPAC Chairman Glenn Hackbarth, noting physician payment increases have already been limited over the last ten years due to hurried Congressional “fixes” to the failed SGR as well as additional cuts imposed by the Medicare Program.  These actions have resulted in physician payment rates that do not cover the increasing costs of practicing medicine, and another 18 percent cut and 10 year freeze will only exacerbate this problem. Instead, the Alliance believes the cost of eliminating the SGR should be viewed as a societal cost and other Medicare providers and/or programs outside of Medicare should share in the cost of the offset.  Several other physician organizations had also protested the MedPAC proposal, yet MedPAC offered no changes to its original plan before today’s final vote.

The MedPAC proposal will now be sent on to Congress, where its recommendations will certainly be among the several choices the Joint Committee on the Deficit will review. 

“It’s very disappointing to see an organization like MedPAC simply shrug its shoulders and approve such a terrible plan,” Valadka continued.  “Their recommendation flies in the face of the realities the physician community is facing every day as it tries to provide care to Medicare patients.”

Wendy Waldsachs Isett, AUA