Physicians must speak up to determine what’s next on Medicare pay

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

What’s the news: In these closing months of 2023, it’s vital for physicians to contact their lawmakers to help stave off the 3.37% cut that is part of the 2024 Medicare physician pay schedule issued and to encourage their members of Congress to reform the payment system under which physicians are the only health care professionals who do not receive an annual adjustment for inflation.

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.

Over the past 20 years, shrinking Medicare have pushed small, independent practices to the brink of financial collapse and jeopardized the care of millions of Americans seniors, AMA Board Chair Willie Underwood III, MD, MSc, MPH, said during an AMA webinar on what’s next with Medicare payment reform.

Find out how you can take part in the fight to reform Medicare on behalf of your patients and practices at the AMA's Fix Medicare Now website. Join physicians nationwide in telling Congress to cancel the cut.

Why it’s important: The 2024 cut would be on top of the 2% Medicare pay cut physicians saw in 2023.

“When you adjust for inflation, the payment rate to physicians who care for Medicare patients has dropped 26% since 2001,” Dr. Underwood noted. “This kind of financial blow is simply unconscionable and it requires immediate attention from Congress before even more payment reductions kick in at the end of this year.”

He and others who spoke during the webinar said it is crucial for physicians to be part of the advocacy efforts by contacting their lawmakers to stop the cut and change the payment system.

“It’s time for you to step up to the game,” said Texas Medical Association President-elect G. Ray Callas, MD. “Our patients need our voice. Our patients need our advocating for them and more importantly, if we don’t do it, who will? It’s not about us. It’s not about you. It’s about “we” and we have to work together to solve this issue that is totally hurting our elderly patients. People deserve to have Medicare because they worked hard in this country to make it the country it is today.”

We need your help

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

Beyond preventing the short-term pay cut and lobbying for an increase for inflation, physicians must fight to change the flawed Medicare Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), which replaced the highly problematic Medicare sustainable-growth rate (SGR) formula

MIPS was initially an improvement, but it is beginning to go back into an SGR-like cycle where each year physicians must fight against pending cuts, said Todd Askew, the AMA’s senior vice president for advocacy.

MIPS has failed to produce any real improvements in quality and at the same time has resulted in significant increases in administrative burden and practice costs.

There also are statutory budget-neutrality requirements that have resulted in billions in Medicare pay cuts for physicians over the years. While other entities also face budget-neutrality requirements, one big problem for physicians is that they do not get the automatic, annual inflationary increases that hospitals, nursing homes, home health and other health care entities receive.

Katie Orrico, the senior vice president American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons discussed legislation on Capitol Hill, including a bill (H.R. 2474) that would give physicians an annual Medicare update based on the Medicare Economic Index.

Also, she said, a coalition of physician members of Congress introduced draft legislation to reform budget-neutrality formulas applied to the physician payment schedule.

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.

Learn more: The AMA in June declared Medicare physician payment reform to be an urgent advocacy and legislative priority, and reaffirmed its unmistakable stance at the 2023 AMA Interim Meeting in November.

The AMA's Medicare Basics series provides an in-depth, straightforward look at key elements of the payment system and why they are in need of reform—including budget-neutrality rules.