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ACP Says COVID-19 Relief Legislation Advances Essential Policies to Support Patients and Physicians

Statement attributable to:
Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP
President, American College of Physicians

Washington, DC (Dec. 22, 2020) — The American College of Physicians (ACP) believes the emergency relief legislation enacted by Congress yesterday advances critically important policies to support patients and their physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, including raising Medicare payments for primary and comprehensive care, reducing budget neutrality payment reductions, funding COVID-19 testing and tracing and vaccine distribution, increasing Graduate Medical Education positions, and funding key public health and workforce programs.

ACP is particularly pleased that the legislation provides across-the-board increases in Medicare payments to physicians in all specialties, substantially offsets budget neutrality (BN) cuts, and supports CMS’s decision to finalize higher payments for office visits and other related evaluation and management (E/M) services:

  • It allows for increases in relative values and payments for long-undervalued E/M services to be implemented on Jan. 1 as finalized by CMS in the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.
  • It provides an additional $3 billion to raise reimbursements for all physician services by 3.75 percent, which will help to mitigate a substantial portion of the cuts that were expected from budget neutrality while further increasing payments to frontline primary and comprehensive care physicians.
  • While ACP is disappointed that a new add-on code (G2211) to reflect visit complexity will be delayed for three years, this delay will result in additional savings to be applied across-the-board for all physician services and will help to further offset BN cuts to other physicians and services.

ACP has repeatedly urged Congress to ensure that any legislation to address BN reductions in payments to some physicians treat all physicians and their services fairly and equitably, rather than picking winners and losers by holding some services harmless from the cuts while allowing them to go into effect for primary and comprehensive care services. ACP applauds Congress from enacting legislation that meets this essential principle. 

Other provisions supported by ACP include:

  • The legislation will expand the Paycheck Protection Program that was established earlier this year, providing more money and more flexibility for recipients. This program has been vital for many physicians in small practices, allowing them to keep the lights on and continue providing important care to their communities.
  • The bill will also suspend cuts to Medicare payments to physicians that would have resulted from sequestration through March 2021. We are glad that Congress recognizes that these types of arbitrary, across-the-board cuts would hurt physician practices who are already dealing with the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a three-month delay is not nearly long enough. The cuts should be delayed until at least the end of the public health emergency.
  • It establishes 1000 more Medicare-supported Graduate Medical Education positions, meaning more medical residents will be able to train to become physicians helping to increase access to care for patients, particularly in underserved communities.
  • It includes surprise medical billing provisions to hold patients harmless from unfair and excessive charges, as ACP has long advocated, while allowing physicians the ability to seek arbitration with the insurer not pegged to unrealistically low payment rates.

Importantly, we also appreciate that the bill will continue and expand funding for programs that protect our public health and facilitate health care for so many Americans.

  • The legislation will further assist with public health efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, through significant funding for vaccines, testing, and contact tracing. This includes $9 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccine distribution; approximately $42 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for purchasing vaccines and to help states with testing and contact tracing; and $3 billion to the National Strategic Stockpile.
  • It funds essential public health and workforce programs. This includes funding for three years for Community Health Centers (CHCs) at $4 billion per year and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) at $310 million per year. It also funds Title VII Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) for $48.924 million for fiscal year 2021.

While this week’s legislation advances essential policies as advocated by ACP, more will need to be done to provide the resources needed for frontline physicians, the federal government, and the states to address and end the COVID-19 pandemic. We at ACP look forward to working with the new Congress and the new administration in the New Year to continue to advance policies that will help our country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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About the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 163,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Contact: Jacquelyn Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org