Each year when November rolls around, doctors call their elected leaders in Washington and solicit patients to convince Congress to overturn proposed Medicare reimbursement cuts.
This year, doctors could face a 23-percent cut on Dec. 1 followed by another 2 percent cut Jan. 1 unless Congress acts to override the reimbursement reductions.
Without that action, more physicians may drop or scale back accepting Medicare, making it harder for some patients to obtain care, according to the American Medical Association.
"On behalf of seniors and their physicians, the AMA is urging Congress to act before a Medicare meltdown begins on Dec. 1," Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the AMA and a Florida physician, said in a statement. "Congress needs to keep Medicare strong for our senior patients and ensure that baby boomers will have access to physicians when they begin receiving their Medicare cards for the very first time this January."
Baby boomers will push Medicare's enrollment up to 50 million Americans by 2016, said Alejandro Perez, medical director of Millennium Physician Group in Naples, Fla. "We all have parents, friends and neighbors. It's going to affect us all."
Perez said some of his patients have been involved in calling members of Congress to take action against the cut.
At issue is a reimbursement formula that the AMA and physicians say is flawed. The formula, called the sustainable growth rate, sets an annual target for Medicare spending on physician services.
The formula was adopted in 1997 as part of budget balancing by tying reimbursement to growth in the economy. Healthcare inflation has risen faster than the gross domestic product in recent years. That outfall is that doctors have faced cuts every year since 2002 but Congress has acted to overturn them.
The AMA consistently asks Congress to scrap the current formula and replace it rather than the annual temporary fixes, to no avail.
"The message is nobody wants to drop Medicare, but it is becoming impossible to run your practice with decreasing reimbursement," said Margaret Eadington, executive director of the Collier County (Fla.) Medical Society. "People sort of put it on the back burner to wait until after the elections and now the elections are over and we've got to do something about it."
(Liz Freeman reports for the Naples Daily News in Florida.)