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AOA responds to threat of massive Medicare pay cuts, ODs, students make voices heard on Capitol Hill

November 9, 2011

Alicia Kerry Jones of the AOA Washington office and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).

As the AOA responds directly to the threat of massive Medicare pay cuts, individual ODs and optometry students from across the country have been weighing in with lawmakers and are increasingly making their voices heard on Capitol Hill and throughout the nation’s capital.

The focus of the AOA’s direct efforts as well as the grassroots campaign launched by thousands of doctors and students is the threat of a series of massive cuts to Medicare payments as a result of continued reliance on Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula as well as an emerging risk from ongoing deficit reduction negotiations on Capitol Hill.

After successfully convincing Congress to implement multiple delays in 2010 and to approve a deal to avert a nearly 25 percent cut in 2011, ODs and other physicians are now facing the threat of the largest Medicare pay cut to date. However, without corrective legislative action, Medicare physician payments are scheduled to be slashed by roughly 27 percent starting Jan. 1, 2012.

Washington office Director Jon Hymes and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

Over the last year and a half, after Medicare cuts were actually imposed for a time, the AOA warned lawmakers that some OD practices were forced to seek loans to make payroll and other expenses while others began to delay or rethink investments aimed at improving patient care and easing costs. Now, the AOA is squarely focused on ensuring that Congress finds an equitable solution to this largest round of cuts yet, which could prove disastrous for patients and providers.

Answering the AOA’s call to action, doctors and students have been increasingly reaching out to their U.S. senators and representatives by logging in to the AOA’s Online Legislative Action Center at www.aoa.org/x4821.xml  and urging their elected leaders to fix the broken Medicare payment system and work with the AOA to preserve seniors’ access to the vision and eye health care they need and deserve.

In addition to the planned cuts as a result of the SGR formula, the AOA is also responding to the possibility of even further cuts as a result of the new congressional deficit-cutting “super committee.” As outlined under the debt ceiling agreement approved earlier this year, the new bipartisan panel has been charged with finding $1.5 trillion or more in deficit reduction over a 10-year period.

Roger Jordan, O.D., chair of the AOA Federal Relations Committee and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

Chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the super committee held its first meeting in early September and is expected to produce a draft proposal in short order. As the panel works toward finalizing its recommendations, the AOA fully expects that federal health programs – and specifically payments to Medicare physicians – will be eyed as a potential source for federal savings.

The new super committee has until Nov. 23 to sign-off on a plan to cut at least $1.5 trillion from future budget deficits, which both the U.S. House and Senate must approve by Dec. 23 to prevent a backup trigger scenario. In the event that the super committee fails or the group proposes a plan too small, the law would automatically impose cuts of up to $1.2 trillion across most government sectors. The annual hit to ODs and other doctors could be $10 billion to $15 billion per year.

Under either a negotiated deal or a trigger scenario, the AOA is working to ensure that payments to ODs are not unfairly targeted and that Congress finds an equitable and lasting solution. The AOA will continue working with leaders on Capitol Hill to make clear the essential role that ODs play in ensuring the health of America’s seniors and in preventing costlier interventions down the road.

In addition to possible Capitol Hill proposals, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) has offered a 10-year alternative to the deep cuts mandated by the SGR payment formula. In its recommendation to Congress, the advisory panel delivered a plan that would offset the nearly $300 billion cost of overhauling the SGR formula with a multi-year payment freeze for primary care medical doctors largely financed through a series of cuts for ODs and other physicians. The plan calls for three years of reimbursement cuts for ODs and others amounting to nearly an 18 percent total reduction followed by a seven year freeze.

Warning the super committee and others while joining with a large number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, U.S. Representatives Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas) and Gene Green (D-Texas) have responded to the flawed MedPAC proposal in an AOA-backed letter recently circulated on Capitol Hill. Now signed by nearly 100 members of Congress at the urging of AOA and others, the Burgess-Green letter makes clear that fixing Medicare’s broken payment system must not be done on the backs of doctors of optometry and other physicians.

Matt Willette of the AOA Washington office and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of the U.S. Senate Health Committee.

With no shortage of scenarios that could mean massive pay cuts to ODs and other physicians, the AOA is urging doctors and students to convey to lawmakers the impact that Medicare pay cuts could have on patients and practices. Deadlines for congressional action are just weeks away and the ability of every OD to provide high-quality vision and eye health care hangs in the balance.

ODs and students are urged to visit the AOA’s Online Legislative Action Center at http://www.aoa.org/x4821.xml and let lawmakers on Capitol Hill know the impact that massive Medicare pay cuts could have on patients and optometry practices.

For more, contact the AOA Washington office at: 800-365-2219 or e-mail ImpactWashingtonDC@aoa.org. To watch powerful video highlights from AOA’s recent celebration of the 25th anniversary of optometry’s full inclusion and recognition in the Medicare program, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1HW1I84Gyw.

To learn more about the deficit-cutting super committee, visit http://deficitreduction.senate.gov/public/.

One comment

  1. […] The new super committee has until Nov. 23 to sign-off on a plan to cut at least $1.2 trillion from future budget deficits, which both the U.S. House and Senate must approve by Dec. 23 to prevent a backup trigger scenario. In the event that the super committee fails or the group proposes a plan too small, the law would automatically impose cuts of up to $1.2 trillion across most government sectors. The annual hit to ODs and other doctors could be $10 billion to $15 billion per year.Source: newsfromaoa.org […]



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