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AARP's One-Minute Guide to Medicare Physician Fairness Act of 2009

What's at Stake?

Every year because of a flawed Medicare payment system, doctors who treat Medicare patients face significant pay cuts—cuts that threaten older Americans' access to their choice of doctor.To people in Medicare, having a doctor they can count on to help them make the best decisions about their health is critical. Now that all-too-important doctor-patient relationship is in jeopardy. Unless Congress acts, doctors who treat Medicare patients will receive a 21.5 percent pay cut next year, and they'll face additional cuts in future years.

Having access to their doctors is critically important to AARP members. In fact, 87 percent of AARP members say they are counting on Congress to ensure that Medicare doctors' pay is not cut. Older Americans need to be sure they can continue to see the doctor of their choice.

Legislative Summary

AARP has endorsed S. 1776, the Medicare Physician Fairness Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), to reform the way Medicare pays doctors. This legislation would repeal the existing system, which would pay physicians 21.5 percent less next year, in 2010.

 Here's the crux of the payment issue: Currently, Medicare pays doctors according to a set formula. Since 2001, however, the formula would have reduced the payment rate for physicians who treat Medicare patients. Fearing that diminished, inefficient payments would cause doctors to stop treating Medicare patients, Congress has continually acted to override these annual pay cuts. Unfortunately, they have repeatedly done so by passing short-term fixes, and each fix has only increased the size of future cuts.The Medicare Physicians Fairness Act replaces the existing system with a requirement that doctors receive the same payments [WOULD “AMOUNTS” WORK BETTER?] for the next 10 years. AARP believes this is the first step toward a much-needed overhaul of Medicare's payment system—a formula that leaves doctors and patients calling out for one that will encourage health-care providers to care for people in Medicare and will achieve greater value for each health care dollar.

AARP's Position

Quality, reliable care for older Americans and proper payment for doctors are why we're calling on the Senate to pass the Medicare Physician Fairness Act. AARP supports this bill because it will accomplish the following:

  • Prevent Medicare doctors from having to take a 21.5 percent pay cut
  • Ensure Medicare patients will have access to their choice of physician
  • Protect the doctor-patient relationship.

AARP has put Congress on notice that failure to pass this bill could leave too many older Americans without access to their doctors, thus undermining Medicare patients' ability to get the care they need to stay healthy.

Legislative Timeline

The Senate is scheduled to consider S. 1776 during the week of Oct. 18, 2009, and policy makers expect to see a number of procedural and substantive votes on the legislation. A companion bill is expected to be introduced and passed in the House of Representatives in the coming days.

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