Doctors Group Launches Ad Campaign Against Medicare Cuts

BY Betty Ann Bowser  June 4, 2010 at 1:10 PM EST

The American Medical Association on Thursday launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at stopping a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

AMA President Dr. James Rohack said the “U.S. Senate turned its back on our nation’s seniors and the physicians who care for them,” by going on vacation at the end of May without making a fix to the drop in the federal reimbursement rate for doctors who care for Medicare patients.

The roots of the issue go back more than a decade. In 1997, Congress adopted something called the “Sustainable Growth Rate” — a formula that was supposed to keep Medicare payments on track with growth in the economy. But a rapid escalation in health care costs in recent years has meant that those costs have grown faster than the economy as a whole — so the formula ends up each year calling for a cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

Rather than making a budget-busting permanent change to the formula, Congress has instead passed a series of temporary “doc fix” bills to delay the rate cut — a move unpopular with many health policy analysts, according to a recent Politico article.

This year, the House passed a bill to delay the cuts for 19 months, but the Senate left for its Memorial Day recess without passing the bill. The cuts went into effect June 1, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has told its contractors not to process claims for 10 days, to give senators time to pass a fix when they return — which they are expected to do.

Rohack said a new survey of 9,000 AMA members showed that 17 percent have recently limited the number of Medicare patients in their practice and that among primary care physicians nearly one third have been forced to cut back on care for seniors. He said that doctors gave two reasons for this: the belief that Medicare payments from the federal government are already too low and the threat of future cutbacks.

He would not say how much money the AMA is devoting to the campaign but ads appeared Thursday in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. They will also be heard on radio and this one will appear in key television markets: