AGA Washington Insider

A policy blog for GIs

Physicians Need to be Engaged in the Political Process

AGA past president, C. Richard Boland, MD, AGAF, met with Rep. Price on Capitol Hill in February 2012.

As the election draws closer, AGA PAC donors had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, an orthopedic surgeon by training and a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. During the teleconference, Rep. Price offered a preview of the post-election lame duck session and how it may impact physicians. Listen to the teleconference.

Rep. Price stated that the outcome of the November elections will dictate what happens in the lame duck session and outlined two scenarios. First, if the Republicans win the White House and control of the Senate, he believes that Congress will continue the current tax rates for a quarter or two to give the new administration time to address those and other issues in a more comprehensive manner next year. However, should the status quo remain — meaning the president wins re-election — there likely will be a very contentious lame-duck session over tax rates, defense cuts and reforms to Medicare.

Rep. Price, the chair of the Republican Policy Committee who is viewed as a leader in health-care policy in Congress, spoke of the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and stated that is has been an absolute disaster; yet Congress continues to “kick the can” down the road instead of fixing it once and for all. There is a solution to fix this formula, in his opinion, and to transition physicians to a more stable payment system that provides a more predictable and accurate inflationary update, but it will require the will of the Congress and needs the involvement of physicians.

The cost of repealing the SGR is approximately $316 billion over ten years. Rep. Price sees two potential pots of money as possible solutions to pay for the fix. The first is what he referred to as rescissions, appropriated money from spending bills that has not been dispersed; Rep. Price believes there could be between $300 and $400 billion that could be used to pay down the SGR debt. The second source is the overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds, which are funds that were assumed to be used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but are no longer necessary since the U.S. is winding down its operations in those wars. Rep. Price is supportive of using these OCO funds to pay for the repeal of the SGR, which is significant given his position in the Republican House leadership and since many in his party are not. He stressed that since many members of the House GOP Doctor’s Caucus are not supportive of using OCO funds to repeal the SGR, physician advocacy could be helpful in swaying legislators to support this position.

The involvement and participation of physicians is absolutely vital if physicians want to be able to take care of their patients without government and insurance companies dictating the practice of medicine, according to Rep. Price. He stressed that he truly believes in patient-centered care in which patients and their families make decisions with their physicians on what the best course of action is for their treatment.

Don Campbell, MD, AGAF, chair of AGA PAC, asked for Rep. Price’s thoughts on medical liability reform. Rep. Price answered that although he has supported legislation such as H.R. 5, which places caps on non-economic damages, he believes that caps do nothing to limit defensive medicine. He stated that physicians need to think outside the box; health courts and allowing some protections for physicians who adhere to specialty society guidelines could help tackle the liability crisis. Rep. Price stated that the cost of defensive medicine in our society is too great and those costs could be used on things like investing in basic and clinical research to ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in research and innovation.

In response to a question from Lisa Gangarosa, MD, AGAF, Rep. Price expressed his support for funding basic and clinical research by stating that we need to prioritize these programs in tough budgetary times. He strongly believes what we fund should be dictated by scientists, not politicians nor who has the biggest and loudest advocacy group.

Rep. Price thanked AGA members for what they do day in and day out — taking care of patients. He stressed that this is a critical time in the house of medicine and many decisions will take place during the next few years that will impact the practice of medicine. Therefore, it is imperative that physicians get to know their members of Congress, their Senators and their local officials.

The AGA thanks Rep. Price for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide his insights and we look forward to working with him on tackling many of these critical issues.

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