Through its advocacy, ACP achieved payment wins under CMS and supported physician practices during the COVID-19 pandemic
Jan. 22, 2021 (ACP) – While 2020 is a year most would like to forget, the American College of Physicians made some impressive strides in its quest to help members – and patients – weather the COVID-19 public health emergency and prepare for what comes next.
“ACP took on the responsibility of helping doctors financially survive and make a difference in patients' lives during this very challenging and tumultuous year,” said Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “I feel very proud of ACP and very proud of what the advocacy team and physician leaders of ACP did to meet these challenges effectively.”
The list of 2020 advocacy accomplishments includes increased payments for office visits and other evaluation and management codes under Medicare, effective Jan. 1, 2021. These increased payments will result in an estimated 6 percent increase in total 2021 Medicare payments to internal medicine physicians. In addition, Congress authorized another $3 billion for 2021 payments to all physicians, including internists.
“This is a huge help to practices that are still trying to offset pandemic-related revenue losses from fewer patients coming into the office,” Doherty said.
Many of the year's advocacy pushes – and wins – were directly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as pay parity for telehealth, including both video and telephone visits. “We helped get multiple bills passed, including those that provide funding for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment as well as financial support to practices through the Provider Relief Fund that has distributed billions of dollars to practices,” Doherty said. “If it hadn't been for these major pieces of legislation and ACP's priorities being reflected in them, the surge of cases and deaths would have been even worse.”
ACP's efforts also led to the elimination of backlog and delays in processing visas for international medical graduates and the authorization of 1,000 new Medicare-funded Graduate Medical Education residency slots, Doherty said – both of which help to bolster the physician workforce.
In addressing barriers to care, ACP joined in arguments to protect Affordable Care Act coverage and fought to eliminate racism and discrimination in health care with its new ACP policy, “Racism and Health in the United States,” and position paper “A Comprehensive Policy Framework to Understand and Address Disparities and Discrimination in Health and Health Care.”
“I hope we get to a point that COVID-19 begins to recede a bit and 2021 can be the year where we address health care disparities and racism and begin expanding health care coverage by building on the Affordable Care Act and improving it. Then we can begin advancing issues like climate change and women's health,” Doherty said.
Many of these issues are highlighted in ACP's New Vision for Health Care, which was published in January 2020 and launched ACP's advocacy for the year. “Envisioning a Better U.S. Health Care System for All” outlines comprehensive reform for the U.S. health care system and includes four papers that provide a call to action and address health care delivery and payment system reforms, coverage and cost of care, reducing barriers to care and social determinants of health.
Equitable vaccine distribution tops the list of 2021 advocacy priorities, Doherty said. “We will work with the Biden administration on a multitude of issues related to COVID-19, including the equitable and ethical distribution of the vaccine,” he said. This includes making sure incarcerated and undocumented immigrant populations receive the vaccine when they are eligible. “It will be all hands on deck to get the shots into the arms of as many people as possible,” he said. ACP will also continue to push for stronger mask or face-covering mandates at the state and federal levels.
An infographic, 2020 Advocacy Impact, can be viewed on the ACP website.