Last week, Congress pulled a fast one on the AMA and decided not to vote on permanently repealing the SGR formula for determining Medicare reimbursement to doctors. Instead, they resorted to their old standby and approved another doc fix for the next twelve months. It replaces a 24% cut to payments for doctors as called for by the SGR with a 0.5% increase.
Who is the biggest loser in this debacle? Besides the doctors who will get a pay increase that again lags behind medical and consumer inflation, I believe it is the reputation of the AMA. It has once again shown itself to be an ineffective organization at promoting the best interests of physicians.
The stars couldn't have been aligned any more perfectly for the AMA to finally get one of its most cherished pet projects passed by the government. Both the House and the Senate were on board for the SGR repeal. They had each passed a version of the bill and only needed to reconcile the two so that it can be voted on by both houses and sent to the president to sign into law. The medical organization sent out massive amounts of email urging doctors to call their representatives to vote for SGR repeal. This despite many doctors' misgivings about accepting a measly 0.5% increase in reimbursements for five years followed by a punishing pay freeze for the next five. The AMA put the full brunt of its PR behind the campaign to finally push this legislation across the finish line, legitimizing its claim as an advocate of doctors' interests.
In the end, it fell short, again. The AMA's lack of clout was fully demonstrated with this failure. The king was once again exposed as the little, shriveled, naked body of an organization it has become, a mere shadow of its former self. When will the leaders of the AMA come down from their academic ivory towers and start listening to the interests of actual physicians? Did they think that doctors want laws passed that will shrivel their pocketbooks? After all the money that was spent by the AMA to get this bill passed, in the end they had to settle for the usual 0.5% increase. They might as well have saved their money and had a big St. Patrick's Day party over in their Chicago headquarters. The outcome would have been the same and at least they would have gotten some good green beer.
Until the AMA starts taking seriously the issues that doctors confront every day, like the denial of payments by insurance companies and the need for medical malpractice reform it will continue to lack the legitimacy to call itself the torchbearer for this country's physicians.