Viewpoint: Congress must prevent 'devastating' Medicare reimbursement cuts

Chris Acker, MD, urged Iowa's congressional delegation to support legislation preventing CMS' implementation of a new rule that would lower reimbursement rates in a Nov. 30 op-ed he wrote for the Des Moines Register.

CMS' proposed rule, slated to take effect in January, would reduce reimbursement for care provided to patients covered by Medicare. It would constitute a 5 percent to 8 percent pay cut for physicians practicing general surgery and anesthesiology, as well as those practicing hospital, critical care and emergency medicine.

Dr. Acker, a practicing emergency physician affiliated with TeamHealth and practicing in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said the state's hospitals cannot afford "such a devastating pay cut" as their already narrow operating margins have been shrunk even further by the COVID-19 pandemic. He referenced a 2019 study that found 17 of Iowa's rural hospitals were at high risk of closing due to unsustainable operating margins.

"Patients are forgoing elective procedures, which means doctors and hospitals aren't receiving critical payments from private insurance," Dr. Acker wrote. "Many clinicians, especially those practicing in rural and underserved communities, depend on Medicare reimbursements to cover the cost of care and pay nurses and other critical health care staff. But CMS' proposed rule would decrease these payments as well."

Dr. Acker noted that more than 160 members of Congress sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma in September asking them to take action on the proposed reimbursement reductions. He also references legislation brought about in October by Reps. Ami Bera, D-Calif., and Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., which proposes that payments to front-line clinicians be stabilized for at least the next two years. 

"These are all steps in the right direction," Dr. Acker wrote. "Congress must pass legislation before Jan. 1."

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