Cathie Biga, president of the Cardiology Advocacy Alliance, has warned cardiologists that even though Congress has stalled the planned sustainable growth rate (SGR) reimbursement cuts three times this year, it does not mean it will do so a fourth time. She reminded attendees at MedAxiom's Fall Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Oct. 7 that cardiologists face a 23 percent reduction from SGR Medicare reimbursements in less than 60 days, with another 6.5 percent reduction in the phased-in Medicare cuts at the start of 2011, unless Congress acts to change the rate.
Biga noted that healthcare reform has already begun to create a funnel of consequences, requiring cardiologists to look at different ways of implementing needed changes in the delivery of services to an increasing number of patients, as well as the way they are reimbursed for those services.
Without continued advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill from cardiologists and practice leaders, Congress may allow significant Medicare reimbursement cuts to take effect and such cuts, she said, have the potential to be financially devastating. There is "fear and trepidation" that Medicare could again begin withholding payments as soon as Dec. 1, she said.
She called on attendees to urge their elected representatives to support a bill from Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, which would keep Medicare cardiology reimbursement at 2009 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule rates.
Biga also said that cardiologists must understand that they need to implement changes to deliver better healthcare to their patients at lower cost, regardless of any congressional action. "Some practices believe that since the cuts weren't as severe as they had expected, that it's business as normal. Nothing could be further from the truth," she said, calling on cardiologists to adopt changes in their practices such as implementing EHRs, including e-prescribing, and ensuring all operational efficiencies have been implemented.
"This is an opportunity to redefine what needs to be defined to get the best outcome at the lowest cost, because right now, we're in a non-sustainable model," Biga said. "You can be depressed, but you can't be spoon-fed, and you can't be uninformed, and certainly you can't be reactive. Cardiologists will have to be more proactive than ever before."
"Financial considerations continue to be a prime concern for a majority of U.S. cardiologists. It is the major factor in the increasing trend toward practice integration," said Patrick White, president of MedAxiom, a cardiology practice service provider based in Neptune, Fla. "We have to remain aware of what is happening in Congress and attempt to positively influence its actions, so that we can continue focusing on what's most important, and that is providing superior healthcare to millions of Americans at an affordable cost."