SAN FRANCESCO -- Leaders of the American Medical Association urged the House of Delegates at its interim meeting to set aside differences and unite on Medicare reform and other legislative issues important to physicians.
"When medicine is split, Congress is reluctant to act," AMA President Richard Corlin said in his opening address to delegates.
Speaking against the backdrop of an enormous American flag, AMA President Dr. Corlin faced a delegation whose mood had been dampened by the aftermath of Sept. 11, plus internal woes spurred by the lawsuit of former executive vice president Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., and the AMA's continued struggles on Capitol Hill.
Spirits lifted considerably on Dec. 4 when Dr. Corlin announced the unanimous passage of the Medicare Regulatory and Contracting Reform Act (H.R. 3391) in the House of Representatives. The bill would place limits on carriers' use of extrapolation and prepayment review and allow physicians to repay any money they owe from an audit in installments, rather than paying for it in full in 30 days.
This action "would not have happened without the cooperation of the AMA, the specialty societies and state medical societies working together," he said.
Acting on other legislative reform issues, delegates approved a resolution that asks the AMA to work with Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to redesign the methodology used to calculate the Medicare conversion factor.
The federal government plans to cut physician Medicare payments by 5.4% for all services in January 2002. "If you practice in an environment with 50% overhead, a 5.4% cut in reimbursement means a 10.8% cut in take-home pay" Dr. Corlin said.
Dr. Barbara Paul, director of CMS' Physicians' Regulatory Issues Team, stressed that the agency's "hands were tied by a formula set in law." CMS remains committed to improving the Medicare program for physicians, she said.
In an additional measure, the AMA, using "urgent request" flyers, provided delegates with an 800 number and Web site address to patch them through to their congressman. Delegates can use the number and Web site to show their support for House and Senate bills that would ease the Medicare payment cut.
To date, the AMA has logged 5,000 calls to Congress on the Medicare payment issue, an AMA spokeswoman told this newspaper.
Responding to concerns that rising medical malpractice costs were reaching crisis levels, delegates approved a substitute resolution that calls on the AMA to immediately reestablish tort reform as a top legislative priority, particularly a cap on noneconomic damages. …