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New Health Policy Brief: Medicare Physician Payment

June 28th, 2010

The latest health policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released June 25, examines the issue of Medicare physician payment. Specifically, the brief addresses the controversy surrounding the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism, which ties physician payment rates to Medicare spending for physician services and the growth rate of the overall economy.

Amidst fears that physicians would stop treating Medicare patients, Congress has repeatedly intervened to temporarily block large payment cuts dictated by the SGR formula, most recently on June 24. However, permanently revamping Medicare’s physician payment regime would significantly increase deficits, so Congress has not altered the SGR formula itself. Therefore, each temporary fix has left intact the threat of future physician payment cuts and in fact has increased the size of the future cuts called for by the SGR.

The new policy brief details the history of the SGR and the associated political debates. The brief also discusses options for reforming Medicare physician payment and looks at what might happen next politically.

A previously published cluster of Health Affairs Blog posts offers more detail on some of the reform options. And for further discussion of the policy brief and the SGR debate, see Naomi Freundlich’s post on the Century Foundation’s HealthBeat blog.

The SGR brief is the most recent in a series of Health Policy Briefs that offer more context than fact sheets but provide quicker reads than most background papers. The information in the briefs is objective and reviewed by Health Affairs authors and other specialists with years of expertise in health policy.

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1 Response to “New Health Policy Brief: Medicare Physician Payment”

  1. johneley Says:

    Please explain to me why it is a matter of national policy to penalize physicians who are already losing money on Medicare patients, when there is no means test applied to the elderly on Medicare. If one reduces payments to physicians who are well off, under the policy of cutting costs, why does is it not aslo fair to impose a means test on the more well-healed seniors. Better yet why not continue to pay physicians a fair price for services to seniors who cannot afford their own coverage while imposing a means test on those who can afford to pay for some of the services out of their own pocket. I for one as a senior would be willing to pay more for the service if it meant that others less fortunate could get service. It is time that we stopped treating Medicare as welfare for the middle class.

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