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MedPAC Recommends Freezing Medicare Physician Payments for 2023

Advocate Masthead

ACP is advocating against this recommendation, saying that freezing payments would jeopardize access to primary care physicians and create access problems for other specialties

Feb. 4, 2022 (ACP)—The American College of Physicians is deeply opposed to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) recommendation to freeze Medicare physician payments for 2023 and will devote much of its energy over the next year to advocating against this move.

“A freeze on payment rates would amount to a payment cut when inflation is factored in,” said Dr. George M. Abraham, president of ACP, on Jan. 14 after the recommendation was made by MedPAC. “MedPAC's recommended plan would jeopardize access to primary care physicians and could create access problems for other specialties.”

MedPAC is an independent, nonpartisan legislative branch agency that was established in 1997 by the Balance Budget Act. Its members include medical professionals, researchers and others.

“The panel advises Congress on issues affecting the Medicare program and on payments to private health plans participating in Medicare,” said Brian Outland, ACP director of regulatory affairs. “They also advise on payments for clinicians in Medicare's traditional fee-for-service program as well as provide information on access to care, quality of care and other issues affecting Medicare.”

The panel issues two reports a year to Congress that include recommendations on various aspects of the Medicare program, including Medicare Advantage.

According to a summary of the MedPAC meeting by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the panel voted unanimously to include a recommendation in its March 2022 report that Congress “update the 2022 Medicare payment rate for physician and other health professional services by the amount determined under current law, which presently provides for a 0% increase in calendar year 2023.”

“The commission does not expect its recommendation to impact beneficiaries' access to care or clinicians' willingness and ability to furnish care,” the summary reported. “MedPAC commissioners did, however, raise concerns about physician well-being and the impact of inflation on physician practices.”

According to Outland, “no increases for physician pay through the fee schedule is not feasible in this environment. Physicians need comprehensive payment reform.”

Abraham noted that research from the American Medical Association has shown that physician payments during the past 19 years have not kept pace with practice expenses or the Consumer Price Index. “If the recommendation from MedPAC moves forward, it would further exacerbate this problem,” he said. “ACP would like to work with MedPAC to develop an alternative that would achieve its goals of producing stable and predictable physician payment updates, protecting beneficiaries' access to care and creating an environment that encourages payment and delivery reforms.”

Outland noted that “while it appears several commissioners plan to vote in favor of the recommendations next month, some expressed the need to dig deeper on beneficiary access to primary care and its relationship to race and sociodemographic status.”

“ACP welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress to address the long-term challenge that budget neutrality imposes on the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule,” Outland said. “Congress needs to hear from physicians directly, as good policy should not come at the expense of those providing necessary care to their patients. It is important for Congress to understand how this pandemic has shown the value of internal medicine physicians who remain on the frontlines of diagnosing and treating patients with COVID-19, as well as continuing to care for patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, via both in-office visits and telemedicine.”

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Back to the February 4, 2022 issue of ACP Advocate