This post was authored by Mike Tempelhof, MD, cardiovascular disease fellow, Northwestern University Medical Center.
Beginning January 2013, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and additional health care reform programs as proposed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be implemented. Unless modified, several provisions within these policies will have a detrimental effect on the quality of patient care, physician autonomy, reimbursement and the future of medicine in America. It is imperative that health care practitioners have an appreciation of the critical health care policy issues and how their implementation will limit our ability to continue to provide high-quality, high-value health care in the future.
If implemented, the SGR formula will cut Medicare physician payments by 28 percent starting Jan. 1, 2013, and budget sequestration targets as defined in the 2011 Budget Control Act will cut Medicare reimbursement annually by an additional 2 percent. The combined 30 percent reduction in physician reimbursement will limit critical investments in diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, ultimately threatening Medicare beneficiaries’ access to quality care. These reductions in Medicare funding will have a dramatic impact on Graduate Medical Education (GME) and research funding, which will likely reduce the number of trainee positions and de-incentivize trainees from pursing specialized medical training. At a time of growing physician shortages in conjunction with an aging population, these cuts would have a significant impact on the quality and availability of US health care in the future. Finally, sequestration is estimated to reduce federal funding of all scientific research by 8.4 percent. Any reduction to the already resource deficient medical research sector will further limit the innovation and development of new medical therapies that our medical system depends on. Such setbacks would stifle the recent gains made in the morbidity and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease.
The ACC is advocating to repeal the SGR, and stabilize sequestration payments until a new reimbursement system is in place. Juxtaposed to the current volume-based payment system, the ACC is strongly advocating for payment models that align payment incentives with evidence-based improvements in health care quality and outcomes. With a proactive approach to health care reform, the ACC has implemented quality improvement tools including clinical data base registries (NCDR, PINNACLE) and appropriate use criteria into clinical practice. This practice model affords the ACC the ability to hold cardiologists accountable for reaching benchmarks in standard of care. Evidence suggests that an evidence-based, incentive payment program modeled on similar quality improvement tools will improve the quality and cost-utility of health care in America. Therefore, the ACC strongly advocates for a quality and not volume-based payment system that aligns payment incentives with evidence-based medicine.
As our health care system evolves at this time of momentous reform, cardiologists and all practitioners must remain the patient’s strongest advocate by continuing to practice medicine with beneficence; delivering effective and efficient health care to all Americans. Collectively, we must act now to repeal the SGR and the sequestration cuts scheduled for January 2013. We must advocate for a meaningful medical liability reform and a sustainable payment system that incentivizes high-quality health care. Choosing not to act, would be the greatest risk to the future our patient’s lives and quality of their care.