March 24, 2021
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 246-175 to stop the 2% Medicare sequestration payment cuts on physicians and to extend the moratorium on these cuts through the end of the public health emergency. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate where it faces more opposition. Congress must act before April 1 to stop the cuts.
Last year, Congress recognized the challenges physician practices were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and waived the 2% Medicare sequestration cuts to give every Medicare physician a 2% payment increase for 2020. In December, Congress extended the waiver through March 31, 2021. Both actions were bipartisan. However, it is now clear that the pandemic is going to continue further into 2021. If the sequestration cuts are allowed to take effect, it will have a devastating financial impact on physician practices across the country, many of which are already strained to the breaking point.
Despite the bipartisan votes on this issue in 2020, Republicans are refusing to vote for this legislation, claiming it is because the $12 billion cost is not offset with a corresponding funding source.
Congressional leaders are still optimistic they can stop the cuts before April 1. On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, Senate Leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican and Democratic leadership on the Senate Finance Committee announced they had agreed to a policy consistent with a bill introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which offsets the cost of the bill by extending sequestration one more year from 2030 into 2031.
The continued negative fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physician practices is undeniable. A California Medical Association (CMA) survey in October 2020 found that 87% of physician practices are worried about their financial health due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with more than 8 out of 10 practices now utilizing telehealth, the average volume of patient visits and practice revenue is still down by one third, with 25% of practices still experiencing a revenue decline of 50% or greater. While revenue is down, practice costs have gone up 14%, with practices having to purchase personal protective equipment, comply with public health disinfecting guidelines, implement telehealth and make other changes due to the pandemic.
CMA is urging bipartisan support for this important legislation to avert the Medicare sequestration cuts at a time when the viability of physician practices is so fundamentally threatened.
Thank you to all the physicians who have contacted their members of Congress urging them to stop the cuts.