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AMA to Times-Picayune: Cuts threaten health care

Nov. 8, 2011(published)

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Thousands of physicians gather this week in New Orleans for the AMA's policy-making meeting. We're here to discuss the future of medicine, and we do so with the fear that on Jan. 1, a massive 27 percent cut will force many of us to limit the number of Medicare patients we treat.

This looming cut threatens access to care for nearly 678,000 Louisiana seniors in Medicare and 132,000 military family members in the TRICARE health program. The cut could not come a worse time. Medicare payments for physician services are so low that there is a 20 percent gap between payment updates and the increasing cost of caring for patients. Now, as millions of baby boomers enter Medicare and military families provide critical support to our armed forces, this massive cut could jeopardize access to the care they need and deserve.

The cause of this chronic problem is a broken physician payment formula that has destabilized Medicare. To stop cuts from this formula, Congress has repeatedly put in place short-term delays that have made the long-term problem worse. In 2005 the cost to repeal this formula would have been $48 billion. If Congress implements the same temporary fixes, the cost will escalate to $600 billion in five years. Clearly the formula needs to be repealed, and the cost will never be less than it is today.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Deficit Reduction has the opportunity to repeal this formula once and for all this month. The deadline for the deficit committee to act comes right before this devastating cut is scheduled to occur. Make your voice heard by contacting Congress at www.patientsactionnetwork.org. Tell your elected officials to repeal the Medicare physician payment formula, protect access to care for patients and stop the growth in cost for taxpayers.

Peter W. Carmel, MD
President, American Medical Association