And now, an advocacy moment

Since last week I confessed my history as a political scientist, this week I’m going to have a policy and advocacy moment with you.

For at least the last decade, it seems that anytime I have had an interaction with one of my Senators or Representatives, one of the topics has been repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).  The very brief version of the SGR is that it is part of the formula used to calculate physician reimbursement for Medicare patients, that it is tied to the GDP, and that it has resulted in a series of steep cuts to physician payments from CMS.  Were it not for essentially annual pleas from physician groups, even steeper cuts would have occurred with the likely secondary effect of even fewer physicians being willing to care for Medicare patients.  While I used to think some of that was mere threat, I’ve learned from personal experience that it is not.  My father’s former internist, who is now retired from practice, was the only internist in the area taking new Medicare patients when my father first moved to SW Colorado.  While this is less of an issue for those in urban areas, it can obviously be a tremendous concern for Medicare patients who live in rural and frontier areas.

For the last several years, we’ve all discussed the tendency of Congress to “kick the can” down the road with respect to the SGR.  What that means is that while a series of one-time patches have been passed to prevent 20% or greater cuts in CMS payments, no durable solution has been put into place.  A bipartisan agreement that has broad support from the medical community was reached on February 6; this agreement would do away with the highly flawed SGR and would reform how physician payment is managed by CMS.  However, Congress actually needs to pass the related bills and get them to Obama’s desk for signature.

How can you help with this process?  Simple.  Contact your Representative and your Senators.  I promise that their offices keep track of what they hear about pieces of legislation, and I also promise there are plenty of groups in opposition to the bill because of the $150 billion price tag attached to it since they stand to lose access to that money.  Our voices need to be heard.  For the surgeons, you can use the ACS Hotline (1-877-996-4464), enter your zip code, and they’ll connect you to the appropriate offices.  If you’re not a surgeon, please identify your Senators and Representative and get in touch with their offices ASAP.  If you are having trouble figuring out who represents you, inbox me or leave a comment here and I will help you figure it out.  This is that important!

Your message when you call is simple- identify yourself as a constituent, and ask your Representative and Senators to Sponsor HR4015/ S2000, and to help it come to a vote before April 1 (which is when the next round of SGR cuts is due to go into effect).  This isn’t just about insuring fair pay for Medicare providers- it’s also about insuring access to care for patients who rely on their Medicare benefits.

3 phone calls, 10 minutes or less, and you can make a difference.  Please reach out.


Hill Visits, April 23, with our fabulous Utah delegation
Hill Visits, April 2013, with our fabulous Utah delegation


Reference:  For a more complete introduction to Medicare and the SGR, this resource from the American Medical Association is a terrific primer.