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AMA meeting: Renewed call for permanent solution to SGR

Delegates were urged to increase pressure on lawmakers to avoid pay cuts that have prompted physicians to limit the number of Medicare patients they treat.

By Damon Adams — Posted June 12, 2010

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Hours after President Obama called on Congress to avert a 21% Medicare physician pay cut, AMA President J. James Rohack, MD, urged physicians to hold congressional leaders accountable for votes on issues such as the sustainable growth rate.

"They represent you. They represent your patients. They will listen. You have their ear, so, if need be, give them an earful," Dr. Rohack said during the opening of the AMA House of Delegates Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on June 12.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said Senate Republicans should stop blocking a vote on the pay cut, which went into effect June 1. He reiterated that he would work toward a permanent solution to the problem.

"For years, I have said that a system where doctors are left to wonder if they'll get fairly reimbursed makes absolutely no sense. And I am committed to permanently reforming this Medicare formula in a way that balances fiscal responsibility with the responsibility we have to doctors and seniors," he said.

Dr. Rohack said he was pleased with Obama's announcement.

"Congress' mismanagement of the Medicare program must end to protect and preserve access to health care for today's seniors and the baby boomers who begin aging into Medicare next year," Dr. Rohack said in a statement.

On June 13, the AMA House of Delegates will sign white coats with messages calling on lawmakers to take immediate action on the pay cut. The coats -- and messages -- will be delivered to Congress.

During his 20-minute speech to delegates at the opening session of the Annual Meeting, Dr. Rohack discussed a national advertising campaign, launched June 3 by the AMA, that encourages the public to contact senators to get them to act on Medicare physician pay. A new AMA online survey of 9,000 physicians showed that doctors are limiting the number of Medicare patients they treat. About one in five physicians has limited seeing such patients, citing low Medicare pay rates and the threat of future pay cuts as the top reasons.

"Congress created this problem. Congress still doesn't really understand it and continues to make it worse through temporary fixes, not permanent solutions," Dr. Rohack told delegates. "The problem is this will only get worse next year and the years to come with the baby boomers becoming eligible for Medicare."

Dr. Rohack also talked about how the AMA worked to get critical principles, such as insurance for more Americans, addessed in health system reform. He said the health reform law provides needed changes to the private insurance market and reduces administrative waste, among other things.

"The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- which includes AMA policies adopted by this House of Delegates over many decades -- is a first step. But it's not the last," Dr. Rohack said. "Our goal is to help make American health care perform at its peak for everyone involved -- in every level of the system."

During the Annual Meeting, which runs through June 16, delegates will consider more than 200 proposals on issues such as calling for legislation to replace the SGR. Among other topics delegates plan to discuss are regulating e-cigarettes, improving flu vaccine distribution and enhancing personalized care through genetic technologies.

On June 14, the AMA will issue its third annual National Health Insurer Report Card on how well health insurers perform in timeliness, accuracy and transparency of claims processing.

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