Doctors Are Mad As Hell

And they aren’t going to take it anymore.  (Apologies to Bob Doherty at the ACP Internist: we were clearly thinking along the same lines today.)  That infamous cri de coeur came from Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 satire Network. “We know things are bad, they’re worse than bad,” says the ranting TV anchorman Howard Beale (in this clip), who exhorts Americans to take to their windows to complain about everything that’s wrong with the world.

Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Emery_Way

Today, physicians found out that Congress has failed again — in a timely manner — to avoid a deep reduction in Medicare fees (my story, here).  Since 2002, physician pay has been set by the sustainable growth rate (SGR). Every time Medicare spending on doctor fees exceeds the annual SGR target, there’s a concurrent reduction that has to happen the following year.

Pretty much like clockwork (with a few exceptions) Congress has found a legal way around the cuts. But with health reform on the agenda, physician pay has become less of a priority. And there’s the nasty fact that each postponement of the SGR cuts is adding billions to the deficit.

The cuts were due to take effect today, March 1. Over the weekend, the House passed a broad bill that would have averted the fee reduction for one measly month. But when it reached the Senate, outgoing Republican rabblerouser Jim Bunning put a hold on the bill.

In an interview this morning, the American Medical Association’s Immediate Past President, Dr. Nancy Nielsen, told me that doctors are fed up with the congressional chain-yanking.  Over at the Happy Hospitalist, the physician blogger in residence did not mince words, either: ” It’s time to screw granny and let the government find a way to provide their care for them.”

Medicare, for its part, said that it will not pay any claims for services delivered in the first 10 days of March. That’s so it won’t have to change over its billing systems to accommodate what might be a temporary pay cut that gets fixed retroactively.

But an unpaid doctor is likely to be an angry doctor.  Will physicians start withdrawing some of their support for health reform?

— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)

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Filed under Health Policy, health reform, IMNG, Physician Reimbursement, Practice Trends

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