Campaign to end the SGR gains ground

 In late February, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) launched its six-week grassroots campaign to promote the enactment of the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4015/S. 2000) by March 31. The ACS, like most of the physician community, supports the legislation and has committed significant resources to support passage of the bill before the 23.7 percent cut in the Medicare physician payment rate goes into effect on April 1.

With your help in the past week, 12 representatives and one senator have cosponsored the legislation. Congress returns to Washington for three weeks in March and we must increase efforts to urge legislators that enactment of the SGR Repeal Act is the right thing to do.

What would the SGR repeal mean? 

It would mean the end of the annual fire drill to avert a drastic cut to Medicare physician payments and help to stabilize the program. Each year, from 2014 through 2018, all surgeons will receive an annual payment update of 0.5 percent. This update would be mandatory, so surgeons would no longer have to worry about potential cuts to the overall physician payment rate. From 2019 through 2023, the base “physician payment rate” would remain frozen at the 2018 rate. In 2024 and beyond, surgeons who meet the requirements of the “Alternative Payment Model” program outlined in the bill would receive mandatory annual updates of one percent. All other surgeons would receive annual updates of 0.5 percent.

If most of the medical community supports the bipartisan, bicameral legislation, why is Congress stalling on immediate passage?

Although many interested parties have rallied around the SGR Repeal Act, the legislation is susceptible to political pressure. Under its rules, Congress must completely offset the cost of the legislation, which is $138 billion, by cutting other programs in the federal health care budget—hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, nursing homes, and skilled nursing facilities—and through changes in the Medicare program structure, which may affect beneficiaries. These groups have already begun their lobbying efforts and we must answer the call or we will lose this opportunity.

In this election year, one in which control of the U.S. Senate is in question, some members of Congress would prefer to avoid being in the position of choosing between interest groups. Other lawmakers simply believe the cost of the legislation is too much, given the current economic conditions. The message to Congress must be that passage of the SGR Repeal Act is the right thing to do for physicians and patients.

What happens if Congress does not pass the legislation before March 31?

There are no guarantees. In the past, Congress has enacted short-term patches that, for the most part, froze payment rates. Since 2002, Congress has enacted 16 short-term patches at a combined expense of $154 billion, which is more than the total cost of the SGR repeal bill. Even a short-term patch that freezes rates is no longer a guarantee. There remains significant pressure to find more savings in the federal budget, including cuts to the Medicare physician payment rate.

We must increase grassroots pressure. In the ACS’ meetings on Capitol Hill, some representatives and senators have told us that they have not heard from the physicians in their districts and are facing pressure from the hospitals and other interested parties. SurgeonsVoice, our online grassroots advocacy tool created for ACS members, makes it easy for you to advocate for the SGR Repeal Act. You can call or e-mail your representatives and senators directly. Without significant grassroots pressure, Congress could table the bill and enact another short-term patch.

What can you do today to help?

Call your representatives and senators today, and tell them they must act now to enact the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014 before April 1.

Your participation is critical.

It will take a strong, collective effort to encourage representatives and senators to demonstrate the political will to pass legislation that puts physicians and patients first. We cannot allow Congress to stall on this landmark legislation.

Call toll-free 1-877-996-4464.

You will be asked to enter your zip code. You will then be connected to your representative’s and senator’s offices. Once you are connected, tell them you are a constituent. Leave your name, phone number, and address, along with the following suggested message.

As a surgeon and as your constituent, I urge you to sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 4015/ S.2000. I also urge you to persuade congressional leadership to bring the bill to a vote before April 1.

To help achieve passage of the SGR Repeal Act it also is critical that you attend this year’s Leadership & Advocacy Summit, March 29 to April 1, and participate in Lobby Day on April 1. This is your opportunity to speak directly with members of Congress or their staffs and tell them to stop paying the minimum on the credit card bill and enact a permanent solution.

For more information regarding the SGR and the College’s advocacy activities, e-mail ahp@facs.org.

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