CMS physicians lobby for SGR fix

Thursday, March 01, 2012 12:12 PM
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Delegation goes to Capitol Hill

Susan Koontz, JD, General Counsel and Senior Director of Government Relations
Chris Lines, Director, Political Education and Advocacy

In February, physician leaders from the Colorado Medical Society and local county medical societies visited with each and every member of Colorado’s nine-member congressional delegation in Washington D.C.

The meetings focused on the matter of repairing the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) Medicare payment formula.

“The meetings were friendly and at times almost jovial, but they mainly focused on the matter of repairing the flawed SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate) Medicare payment formula,” said Jan Kief, MD, CMS President-elect.

“We explained to each of our congressional members that we would report back to Colorado physicians about this issue,” said F. Brent Keeler, MD, CMS president. “We asked, ‘so what should we tell them?’ The question opened a candid and confirming conversation.”

Meanwhile, the House-Senate conference committee was working behind closed doors with a March 1 deadline on a potential agreement. Issues in play included the payroll tax extension, unemployment benefits and the SGR. At the time, there was great speculation as to the outcome: a meltdown, a short-term patch, or something long-term and

During their visit, Colorado’s physician leaders were briefed by the AMA’s top lobbyists, who shared the message: persistence pays off.

“We can’t let up. And considering the staggering financial implications and political uncertainty – now is the time,” Keeler said. “We have endured nine years of lobbying and the emotional rollercoaster of short-term patches, near misses and cuts.”

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett jointly hosted the February visit, a testament to the importance the two senators place on their relationship with Colorado physicians. Udall pledged to support a long-term fix with available funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations. Bennett reassured the physicians that he would continue to work for a long-term fix, as he has done in the past.

“The takeaway from the meeting was that our U.S. senators get it. They not only support the fix, they are working on a solution,” said Denver Medical Society President Lucy Loomis, MD.

While physicians gathered on Capitol Hill for a full day of meetings with their members of the House, rumors were surfacing that the conference committee had struck a bargain. Early details began to unfold throughout the day.

“By mid-afternoon, we learned there was to be a 10-month patch, so we adjusted our message to one of appreciation but also disappointment,” Keeler said.

“The gratifying aspect of attending the meetings in D.C. was that all of our members of congress, regardless of party, understand that the SGR must be fixed,” said Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA, Arapahoe Douglas Elbert Medical Society president.

CMS CEO Alfred Gilchrist, who is also a long-time Washington medical lobbyist, said the Colorado physicians did a great job of conveying a sense of urgency about a long-term fix when they shared with their legislators “that the troops back home are beyond restless.”

Colorado physicians stressed in each meeting that any advancement on improving value in health care is being held hostage by the lack of progress on Medicare payment reform. A fact sheet provided to each member of the congressional delegation shared the great strides being made in Colorado on health information technology, health information exchange and payment reform.

“We made the case that the early adopters are taking all the risk while many physicians continue to hang back, waiting to see if there is going to be a sustainable business model to support practice redesign that comes along with HIT implementation,” explained Mesa
County Medical Society President-elect, Kevin Fitzgerald, MD.

While there is understandable disappointment in Congress’ decision to postpone a permanent fix of the SGR, the CMS community remains strong, motivated and influential, and will continue to be tenacious in its efforts to rally support to fix the SGR once and for all. Check the CMS website at, for updates.

Posted in: Colorado Medicine | Practice Evolution | Payment Reform | Initiatives | Advocacy


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