CHICAGO — For the first time, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) today called for a physician payment update tied to the Medicare Economic Index (MEI). The American Medical Association (AMA) has long championed this move and appreciates MedPAC’s acknowledgement that the current Medicare physician payment system is inadequate—a critical first step toward the larger, necessary work of reforming Medicare to make it more rational and serve patients better.
In the face of inflation, the COVID pandemic, and growing costs of running a medical practice, physicians have struggled to keep open their doors, jeopardizing access to care, particularly in rural and underserved areas. Not only have Medicare payments failed to respond adequately, but physicians saw a 2% payment reduction for 2023, creating an additional challenge at a perilous moment.
“Having surveyed the health care landscape, MedPAC recognized that physician pay has not kept up with the cost of practicing medicine. Yet, we feel strongly that an update tied to just 50% of MEI will cause physician payment to chronically fall even further behind increases in the cost of providing care. Congress should adopt a 2024 Medicare payment update that recognizes the full inflationary growth in health care costs,” said AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., M.D.
"As one of the only Medicare providers without an inflationary payment update, physicians have waited a long time for this change. When adjusted for inflation, Medicare physician payment has effectively declined (PDF) 26% from 2001 to 2023. These increasingly thin or negative operating margins disproportionately affect small, independent, and rural physician practices, as well as those treating low-income or other historically minoritized or marginalized patient communities. Our workforce is at risk just when the health of the nation depends on preserving access to care.
Medicare reform is a central plank in the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.
Also today, the AMA and 134 other health organizations—representing 900,000 physicians and tens of millions of Medicare patients—wrote congressional leaders, telling them that a full inflation-based update is “the principal legislative solution to the ongoing problems plaguing the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.”
The letter notes that Congress has passed stopgap measures in the past few years to mitigate threats to Medicare physician payments. Yet, practice costs have outpaced those efforts. The gap between frozen physician payment rates and rising medical practice costs due to inflation will continue to widen. A permanent solution is needed to avoid this annual panic and legislative chaos.
The letter points out the real-life impact of the eroding value of Medicare payments. According to MedPAC, among those looking for a new primary care physician, half of Medicare patients had difficulty in finding one. And among Medicare patients looking for a new specialist, one-third struggled to find one. Finding specialists in rural and historically underserved areas is particularly difficult, and the payment system is creating even bigger barriers for patients in those communities.
The full letter can be found here.
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About the American Medical Association
The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care. The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.