In a move eerily similar to the events of two years ago, Congress approved a two-month extension of the physician-Medicare reimbursement formula, delaying the implementation of a 27% cut in physician reimbursement. Physicians throughout the country have reacted with disappointment as they prepare for another year of fiscal uncertainty to their practices.
“The implications can be devastating says Dr. Rob Knego,” a neurosurgeon in Sarasota, Florida and President of the Sarasota County Medical Society. Citing the results of a poll taken through the Society, Dr. Knego predicts potentially catastrophic consequences to the Southwest Florida economy and health care system if these cuts are not averted. When asked how they would respond to the looming reimbursement cuts, physicians reported actions such as cutting employee salaries, laying off staff members, and discontinuing health insurance benefits. Most ominously, over 20% of physician responding stated they would either close their practices or move from the area because of the financial difficulties imparted by Congress’s ineptitude.
Congressman Vern Buchan, Distirct 13’s representative to the House of Representatives and advocate for a minimum 2-year fix observes, “I frankly cannot understand how a business can survive if it is threatened with a major cut in income every few months, or even every year. It is an unsustainable situation.” The House of Representatives, in no small part due to Congressman Buchanan’s efforts, had passed a Bill during the week of December 11, 2011 that would offer physicians a 1% pay increase for two years, but the provision was struck down in the Senate to its final, zero-percent, two-month extension.
“Are you really surprised?” says Dr. Michael Patete, an otorhinolaryngologist practicing in Venice. Florida. “This is exactly the lack of support Medicare patients and their physicians have been getting from Congress for over ten years.” Says another surgeon from Venice, Florida, “I am this close to stop taking Medicare, whatever the consequences to my practice.”
In his press release, Dr. Peter Carmel, President of the American Medical Association, the same organization that negligently failed to insist that a permanent correction to the formula reimbursing physicians be instituted as part of the Obamacare legislation said, “Waiting to the last week of the legislative session to address a problem that Congress knew was looming all year is not the way to conduct our nation’s business. Patients and physicians legitimately fear that Congress will repeat the failure of 2010 when they missed multiple deadlines and Medicare bills went unpaid.”
Ironically, if the American Medical Association had stuck to the mandate given to it by its House of Delegates, its members and the majority of physicians who refuse to join that organization because of the AMA’s ineffective advocacy efforts may not be facing this situation today.