From the Second Annual Joint Surgical Advocacy Conference, Washington, DC
It’s increasingly obvious that a line in the sand is being drawn, and we’re not talking about one in the desert. Primary care physicians and specialists appear to be headed for a smackdown, aided and abetted by a Congress that’s going to have to figure out how to fund health care reform and also avoid the statutory 21% cut in Medicare physician fees coming later this year.
Chest-beating was on vivid display at the Second Annual Joint Surgical Advocacy Conference earlier this week. Eighteen specialty groups — from neurosurgeons to ophthalmologists to urologists to plastic surgeons to thoracic surgeons — banded together to hear rousing speeches from congressional allies and then to hop on buses to take their message directly to Capitol Hill. Last year, there were only a handful of sponsors at the first annual conference.
They’ve got reason to be worried. From the Medicare Payment Assessment Commission to many Democratic congressional leaders, there has been a growing drumbeat of support for a redistribution of federal and private monies to prop up primary care, which is relatively underpaid — relative to specialty medicine, that is.
The specialists made it clear that they don’t want to open up their wallets to subsidize primary care.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) stoked the specialists’ fire by asserting that no foreigner comes to America in search of primary care — rather, they’re looking for top-notch specialty services, he said. He promised to protect specialists’ interests in his role as head of the Republican task force on health reform.
During question and answer sessions, more than one audience member chimed in that the primary care support should not come out of specialists’ hides.
A day later, specialists and primary care docs were going head to head during a House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing. The fun has just begun.