MMS President Addresses Issues of Reform, Payment at Interim Meeting of HOD

Contact: Richard P. Gulla
Tel: 781-434-7101
E-mail: rgulla@mms.org

Waltham, Mass. -- December 3, 2010 -- Saying that "we have to advocate for physicians and patients with tenacity and determination," Massachusetts Medical Society President Alice Coombs, M.D., in delivering her President's Report to the MMS House of Delegates at the Society's Interim Meeting December 3 in Waltham, addressed two of the biggest issues currently facing physicians: Medicare reimbursement and state payment reform.

"It's not a doctor fix, as the newspapers like to call it," Dr. Coombs said about the effort to fix the flawed SGR formula used to reimburse physicians for treating Medicare patients. "It's about patients and the future of health care in America. We have to get this right."

Dr. Coombs said Congress is trying to find money to pay for a one-year deferment of the proposed cut of nearly 30 percent, scheduled to take effect in January. The one-year delay would provide time to develop a permanent fix to a problem that has persisted for nearly 10 years, with annual last-minute fixes. This year alone, Congress has acted five times on the issue. 

Dr. Coombs said some hope exists for a positive outcome, primarily due to increased advocacy efforts.  National White Coat Call-in Day on November 17 generated 18,000 phone calls to Capitol Hill urging action. She also cited the efforts of AARP, which has become "deeply involved" in the issue, sponsoring advertising and direct mail efforts and "tele-town halls" in 14 states to raise awareness of the issue among seniors and to urge them to advocate for change. 

At the state level, Dr. Coombs told the delegates that payment reform is "our top legislative priority," and urged them to keep in mind that payment reform is an unknown quantity. "Payment reform and accountable care organizations have never been deployed on a large-scale basis before," she said. "So we've been working hard to ensure that the issues are studied very carefully."

Recognizing that "legislation is coming," Dr. Coombs added that the Medical Society will be working diligently to educate leaders at the State House about physician perspectives on payment reform. That process has begun, she noted, with MMS President-Elect Dr. Lynda Young's participation on a state committee now discussing a payment reform bill. Dr. Coombs also said that the Society will be working equally hard to provide information and guidance to physicians. 

Dr. Coombs reiterated the MMS position on payment reform and accountable care organizations, listing several criteria critical to physicians:  adoption must be voluntary; physician leadership and independence are essential; quality measures must be valid and reliable; self-referral and antitrust laws and regulations must be eased; and risk adjustment, liability reform, and peer review protections must all be present. "One size does not fit all," she said.     

"This is not a time to get discouraged," Dr. Coombs advised the delegates. "It is a time to get busy. It is only the start of a very long process, and I promise you will not rest until we get it right."

The complete text of Dr. Coombs' report is available on the MMS website.

For a four-minute video clip of Dr. Coombs' President Report to the House of Delegates, click here

The Massachusetts Medical Society, with more than 23,000 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the patients and physicians of Massachusetts. The Society publishes the New England Journal of Medicine, a leading global medical journal and web site, and Journal Watch alerts and newsletters covering 13 specialties. The Society is also a leader in continuing medical education for health care professionals throughout Massachusetts, conducting a variety of medical education programs for physicians and health care professionals. Founded in 1781, MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. For more information please visit www.massmed.org, www.nejm.org or www.jwatch.org

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