How Congress is failing America’s Medicare patients

Kevin B. O'Reilly , Senior News Editor

AMA News Wire

How Congress is failing America’s Medicare patients

Jan 25, 2024

What’s the news: The AMA and more than 120 other national medical organizations and state medical societies last week called on Congress (PDF) to pass legislation to reverse the 3.37% Medicare physician pay cuts that took effect Jan. 1.

Speak up for Medicare reform

The need for Medicare physician payment reform has never been greater. The AMA shows how the current system is unsustainable—and how you can urge Congress to support solutions.

But Congress kicked the can down the road, passing a continuing resolution (CR) that funds four appropriations bills through March 1 and the other eight through March 8 to avoid a government shutdown. While that CR did delay cuts to safety-net hospitals, community health centers and more, it did not reverse the physician pay cut—a clear disservice to the country’s Medicare patients and the doctors who care for them.

“We are disappointed that Congress chose not to stop serious Medicare cuts for physician services in the temporary CR,” AMA President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, said in response. “Failure to reverse these cuts will create access issues for patients and small, independent physician practices, especially those in rural and underserved areas. Physicians are the only providers who have a payment cut this year and now face a nearly 10% reduction in Medicare payments over the past four years. Yet, we recognize that Congress’ work is far from done and urge lawmakers to reverse these cuts at the soonest opportunity.”

Leading the charge to reform Medicare pay is the first pillar of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

The AMA has challenged Congress to work on systemic reforms and make Medicare work better for you and your patients. Our work will continue, fighting tirelessly against future cuts—and against all barriers to patient care.

Why it’s important: Enough is enough—Congress must act to reverse these devastating cuts.

The AMA is fully behind the Preserving Seniors’ Access to Physicians Act of 2023, recently introduced in the House of Representatives. The measure, H.R. 6683, would cancel the entirety of the 3.37% cut, and a bipartisan group of nearly 200 members of Congress has co-signed a letter (PDF) urging congressional leaders to expeditiously pass legislation to address the Medicare payment cuts.

Physicians and patients can visit the AMA’s Fix Medicare Now website to write their congressional representatives to support this critical legislation.

Running a practice and caring for patients is becoming unsustainable for physicians. This year’s 3.37% Medicare physician pay cut comes on top of the 2% cut physicians saw in 2023. When adjusted for inflation prior to this year’s pay cut, the payment rate to physicians who care for Medicare patients was 26% less than it was in 2001.

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Become a member and help the AMA fight to protect physician payment and patients’ access to care.

Physicians fall into the only group that does not automatically get an annual inflation increase to cover the rising costs of doing business. Earlier this month, the influential Medicare Payment Advisory Committee again recommended increasing payment rates based on an inflation-based index for Medicare.

If physicians got an inflationary adjustment like hospitals and other health professionals are getting, doctors would have seen a 4.6% increase in payment in 2024.

Medicare provider updates for 2024 chart

The Senate Finance and the House Energy and Commerce committees have marked up legislation that would provide partial relief—1.25%—from the Medicare cuts. But the Preserving Seniors’ Access to Physicians Act currently represents the best opportunity to advance legislation to eliminate the cuts entirely.

Learn more: Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to find out what’s at stake in reforming Medicare payment and other advocacy priorities the AMA is actively working on.

Medicare physician payment is among the issues on the agenda at the 2024 AMA National Advocacy Conference, Feb. 12–14 in Washington, D.C. Find out more and register now.

Fix Medicare now