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Irving Weekly Title


Medicare Needs the Attention of Congress

Recently the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a 3.3 percent cut to payments made to physicians who treat Medicare beneficiaries. It was just the latest in a decades-long series of blows to the providers who care for our older neighbors.

Cuts to reimbursement rates strike me as pennywise, and pound foolish. Reducing access to care for seniors cannot be our policy goal.

According to the AMA, the cost of running a physician practice has increased by nearly 30% over the past 20 years. Over that same period, Medicare payments to physicians declined by 50% after adjusting for inflation. Other providers, such as skilled nurses, have received increases that have at least kept pace with inflation. Only doctors have had to do more with less – much less.

This decline in reimbursements, combined with annual cuts resulting from budget neutrality, sequestration, and a lack of viable alternative payment models or value-based care models, unequivocally underscores the broken state of the Medicare payment system.

When we factor in attrition, burnout, stress, and workload management, it’s easy to understand why 1 in every 5 physicians has seriously considered leaving their practice. And while this is undoubtedly tough on the physicians, it is even tougher on America’s seniors as more and more lose access to quality care because of a looming physician shortage.

Fortunately, the opportunity for real reform is now being debated in Congress. H.R. 2474, “the Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act,” would apply a permanent inflation-based update to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

Having served as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee in Congress, I know this legislation would come through this committee. One of its newest members is DFW-area member and former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne. I hope she will seriously consider supporting H.R. 2474.

To its credit, Congress has at least taken short-term steps over the years to prevent dramatic and sudden reductions to physician payments. But these steps, which are themselves tacit admissions that we have a problem on our hands, have always been temporary rather than permanent structural reforms, and have done nothing to stanch the overall trend. By implementing an inflationary update, Congress can offer financial? relief and acknowledge the dynamic economic landscape in which healthcare providers operate.

H.R. 2474 is a significant step towards ensuring that America's seniors have continued access to the high-quality care they deserve. It’s a bipartisan, common-sense solution to a problem affecting nearly every family in America.

“As hospitals in small and rural areas continue to struggle, it’s imperative we take action to ensure these communities have access to timely and quality healthcare services,” said Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), who is both a sponsor of the bill and a physician herself. “Our bill, the Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act, will provide stability for physicians across the board.”

I urge all members of the Texas congressional delegation, including our own Rep. Van Duyne, to join other bipartisan leaders in supporting H.R. 2472, “the Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act,” not just for Texas physicians, but for Texas seniors and their families, as well.

Joe Barton served in Congress representing the 6th congressional district of Texas from 1989-2019.

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