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AMA Medicare Meltdown News Conference: Remarks from AMA President J. James Rohack

June 14, 2010

AMA House of Delegates
Annual Meeting
Hyatt Regency Hotel
Chicago, Illinois

J. James Rohack, M.D.
President, American Medical Association

Thank you for joining me today. I’m Dr. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association and a practicing cardiologist in Texas. For those of you joining us by phone, I’m talking with you from the AMA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago.

I’m joined at this meeting by more than 1,500 physicians and medical students representing every state and medical specialty societies.  The mood of my colleagues is one of frustration and outrage because it’s now two weeks after a steep Medicare cut began, and the Senate has yet to act.  Their failure to avert a 21 percent cut has real-word consequences for seniors, the disabled, military families – and the physicians who care for them.

This weekend, President Obama demonstrated the importance of the Medicare physician payment issue by calling on Congress to avert a 21 percent cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients in his weekly radio address. He also reiterated his commitment to permanent reform of the Medicare physician payment formula.

Here are President Obama’s own words:

“I realize that simply kicking these cuts down the road another year is not a long-term solution.  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.”

The Senate’s failure to act before June 1 made the 21 percent cut the law of the land, and this week Medicare’s temporary hold on claims expires.  Physicians will start seeing a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments this week that will hurt seniors’ health care as physicians are forced to make practice changes to keep their practice doors open.

This morning, CMS announced that it will extend the claims hold until Thursday, further delaying payment on care physicians have already provided.

Physicians here at the meeting are sending a message to Congress to express their severe disappointment and dismay by participating in a rally and signing white lab coats that will be hand-delivered to congressional offices in Washington.  The signed lab costs are a symbolic, visible reminder that action is desperately needed to avert a Medicare meltdown by replacing the broken Medicare physician payment formula.  The rally, held yesterday morning at the AMA’s meeting, resulted in hundreds of signed coats that will be taken to Capitol Hill this week.  Physicians can participate in a virtual “Write Coat Rally” by calling their members of Congress at 1-800-833-6354. 

Physicians can now download from the AMA Web site a new flyer to share with their own patients, which urges them to contact their Senators.  The new flyer says, “Medicare and TRICARE patients: Protect your access to health care. Demand that Congress fix Medicare!”  Because the government health care program for military families, TRICARE, ties its physician payment rates to Medicare, military families are also at risk.

Concerned Americans can get involved in the AMA’s Patients Action Network and reach their members of Congress directly at 1-888-434-6200.  AMA is already hearing from worried patients and we encourage them to get involved.   

Results of a new online survey of 9,000 physicians who care for Medicare patients confirms that seniors are already being hurt by Congress’ Medicare mismanagement.

About one in five physicians (17%) say they have already been forced to limit the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Nearly one-third of primary care physicians (31%) have already been forced to limit care to Medicare patients. 

The top two reasons physicians gave for these actions were the ongoing threat of future cuts and the fact that Medicare payment rates were already too low. Current Medicare payment rates are about where they were in 2001 while medical practice costs have increased twenty percent.

Physicians want to care for seniors, but multiple short-term delays have created severe instability for physician practices nationwide – and this cut is the last straw. This is no way to run a major health insurance program.  It’s time for Congress to fix the problem once and for all to preserve seniors’ health care and ensure the success of new initiatives to improve the health system. 

Nine times in eight years Congress has delayed the cut, which has grown the problem to astronomical heights.  It’s akin to putting the tab on a credit card without ever paying off the balance and watching the price tag grow.  Now the bill is due:  Congress created this problem; now they need to fix it.   It’s time to stop increasing the cost of reform to taxpayers and the size of the cut by repealing the broken payment formula.

Thank you. I’d like to quickly share with you a brief two-minute video from yesterday’s rally. Those of you joining us by phone can watch the video, look at photos and download our new patient flyer at www.ama-assn.org/go/writecoatrally.