Medicare payment cuts threaten health care system

March 04, 2010

Once again, the Senate is potentially jeopardizing access to health care. The Senate failed to pass a bill that included a temporary halt to the 21.2 percent cut in Medicare physician payments; as a result, the cut went into effect on March 1.

While Congress has now acted to extend pre-March 1 Medicare physician payment rates, this only provides physicians and their patients temporary relief from the unfair Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR).

Temporary SGR fixes have served to exacerbate the Medicare physician payment crisis that has physicians scheduled for more than 40 percent in cuts, with negative and far-reaching impact on providers, patients and the health care delivery system. Failure to permanently repeal the SGR and replace it with a fair Medicare physician reimbursement formula impacts the long-term viability of medical practices and the ability to continue employing staff, purchasing updated equipment and meeting other challenges small businesses face providing quality medical and surgical care to patients.

If a permanent solution to Medicare physician payment is not addressed, the cost of serving Medicare patients will exceed reimbursement levels, which may lead practices to:

• Limit the number of Medicare patients that are seen each week.

• Stop accepting new Medicare patients.

• Impose hiring freezes, cut staff hours and/or lay off employees.

• Forego investments in updated equipment and technology.

Today physicians are paid at essentially 2001 rates under the Medicare program. Further disruption payment cuts cannot be sustained.

Dr. Marjorie Warden, Ellicott City

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