Group joins efforts to reform Medicare

Published 6:45 pm Friday, May 21, 2010

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) and 16 other state medical groups have teamed up and launched a petition to urge lawmakers to reform Medicare.

MASA officials have said the cost of treating Medicare patients over the last 10 years has increased, but Medicare reimbursements have decreased.

“The dollars and cents just don’t make sense any more,” said MASA President Dr. Steven Furr.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Doctors are finding it harder and harder to continue treating Medicare patients and still operate a viable medical practice.”

MASA spokesman Niko Corley said the root of the problem lies within the formula that is used to determine the amount of Medicare reimbursements paid to doctors.

Under the current structure, Corley said, too much emphasis is placed on non-medical economic indicators such as the CPI and the GDP.

“We want a formula that looks at the cost of providing care,” he said.

Corley explained the market rate of health care equipment from high-priced machinery down to gauze bandages is not consistent with the economic factors taken into account under the current formula, called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).

“It hasn’t kept up with the cost of treating patients,” Corley said.

The petition calls for Congress to adopt a new method for calculating the SGR.

“The formula used ought to be based on medical numbers. It must make sense medically and economically.”

Corley said that without an accurate measurement of the funding needs of doctors, the entire system is at risk.

“It’s about patient choice and it’s about access to care,” he said. “The implications for not creating a permanent, positive fix will be detrimental to physicians’ ability to provide care, and a patients ability to choose where they will receive it.”

Legislators have attempted to alleviate the situation in the past with temporary solutions, but Corley said those provisional remedies were not enough.

“Congress has been kicking the can down the road,” he said.

“The longer this thing gets pushed off, the more expensive it becomes to fix.”

And Corley said the issue could be at a breaking point now.

. Furr contends that unless Congress enacts a permanent, positive fix to Medicare funding policies quickly, physicians will see a 22 percent cut in reimbursements.

“We’re being forced to quit seeing Medicare patients,” . Furr said.

In November, the U.S. House passed a bill that would have permanently fixed the problem, but that bill has yet to pass through Senate.

Rep. Bobby Bright D-Montgomery was one of the supporters of that bill.

“Passing the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act is absolutely essential,” Bright said in November.  “It is unconscionable that we could allow a 21 percent cut to the Medicare physician payment rate and endanger seniors’ choice of doctor.”

MASA and its allies are hoping the petition will be enough to make a difference on the floor of Congress.

“I hope this joint petition of patients and physicians underscores the need for Congressional action on Medicare,” . Furr said.

“The whole gist of this petition is for Congress to find a permanent fix,” Corley said.

“We want to drive the point home of how important this is and how this issue has come to a head now.”

If no action is taken, the cuts in Medicare reimbursements would take effect June 1.

The petition currently has more than 1,400 signatures. MASA has posted it online at: