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AARP Calls on Congress to Ensure Access to Doctors in Medicare without Price Spikes for Seniors

Group warns some proposals could add billions to seniors’ health care bills

For Immediate Release

May 5, 2011

CONTACT: Media Relations, 202-434-2560

AARP Calls on Congress to Ensure Access to Doctors in Medicare without Price Spikes for Seniors

Group warns some proposals could add billions to seniors’ health care bills

WASHINGTON—AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond sent a letter to leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in advance of the Subcommittee on Health hearing on Medicare physician payments.  AARP and millions of older Americans recognize the importance of ensuring access to doctors for people in Medicare.  However, some proposals to change the physician payment system could jeopardize access or cause unfair spikes in costs for seniors.  Excerpts from LeaMond’s letter to the lawmakers follow:

“We applaud the House Energy and Commerce Committee for addressing the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) problem and for seeking solutions to the problem from stakeholders within the health care industry.”

“…[T]he SGR formula by which Medicare updates its physicians’ fees is widely viewed as broken.  Yet for more than a decade, Congress has failed to change the system, and the problem continues to grow worse.  …  Facing this constant uncertainty and dramatic cuts to their payments, more and more physicians are choosing to no longer take Medicare patients.  Our members are concerned they could lose access to doctors if their pay is cut.”

“Rather than address the SGR problem in the long term, Congress has consistently chosen instead to pass short-term band-aid approaches.  …  The longer we wait to address the long-term solution to the problem, the more physicians we can expect to leave—or threaten to leave—the Medicare program.”

“AARP encourages Congress to enact the longest possible resolution to the SGR problem.  We believe any solution should aim to emphasize value over volume, and take steps to promote better quality care.”

“Some Members of Congress and provider organizations have recently suggested relaxing ‘private contracting’ and/or ‘balanced billing’ rules as a potential solution to the physician payment problem.”

“AARP strongly opposes relaxing the current Medicare rules related to balanced billing and/or private contracting because they would do nothing more than shift costs onto Medicare beneficiaries.  Some have estimated that it would cost roughly $330 billion over ten years to ‘fix’ the SGR system.  …  AARP strongly opposes the idea of allowing physicians to charge beneficiaries whatever they want, which would essentially pass much of the $330 billion cost directly on to Medicare beneficiaries.”

“Today, about 50 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have incomes below $22,000.  The average older person already spends about one third of his/her income on health care.  These individuals cannot afford to pay more out-of-pocket for physicians’ services.”

“In addition, beneficiaries do not have access to pricing or physician performance information that would allow them to compare costs and choose lower-cost, higher value physicians.  Even if such information were available, beneficiaries often lack the ability to use the information wisely, especially when in need of urgent medical services.”

“Finally, not only do private contracting and balanced billing shift costs onto beneficiaries, but neither does anything to improve the quality of care delivered.  In fact, under both approaches, physicians will continue to be rewarded by the quantity of care provided, rather than on the quality of that care.  As Congress grapples with how to address the SGR problem, it should focus on rewarding quality providers, not on the quantity of services provided.”

“Our members believe that giving seniors the peace of mind that they can keep seeing their doctors isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue.  And older Americans agree it’s time to work together to find a solution both sides can support that will keep doctors in Medicare.  AARP is committed to working with both sides of the aisle to ensure Congress reaches a financially responsible solution that will help prevent seniors from losing their doctors.”

For a complete copy of AARP’s letter, please contact AARP Media Relations at 202-434-2560 or

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole.  AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates.  We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website,  AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors.  We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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