A bipartisan effort to avoid proposed cuts to Medicare payments in 2021 has been launched: On Oct. 30, Reps. Ami Bera, MD, D-Calif., and Larry Bucshon, MD, R-Ind., introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would add funding to Medicare and direct CMS to essentially reset payment to 2020 levels for the 37 professions on the chopping block for cuts. Those professions include physical therapy, which was targeted for reductions that amount to a 9% decrease in payment levels.
Since the cuts were proposed in the 2021 proposed physician fee schedule, APTA has directed an aggressive campaign addressed to both CMS and Congress, and submitted extensive comments to CMS about the recklessness of implementing the cuts.
Named the "Holding Providers Harmless From Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020" (H.R. 8702), the bill would keep Medicare payment levels stable for the next two years, sparing physical therapy and 36 other professions from cuts designed to offset increases to payment for office/outpatient evaluations and management services. Cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., George Holding, R-N.C., Raul Ruiz, MD, D-Calif., Phil Roe, MD, R-Tenn., Abby Finkenaurer, D-Iowa, and Roger Marshall, R-Kans.
According to CMS, the cuts were the only way it could implement the increases to E/M codes and maintain budget neutrality. The proposed legislation would increase funding to CMS by the estimated amounts redirected toward the planned increases, essentially offsetting the damage caused by the shift. That added funding would reach providers by way of temporary additional relief payments during 2021 and 2022.
In a joint press release, Bera and Bucshon describe the bill as an attempt to prevent what they believe is an ill-timed reduction that would take effect as the U.S. health care system continues to struggle with the challenges of an ongoing global pandemic. Bucshon described H.R. 8702 as "commonsense legislation"; Bera said that, left unaddressed, the cuts "will further strain our health care system and the ability for health care professionals to serve their patients."
Good News — But No Time To Let up on the Pressure
Justin Elliott, APTA's vice president of government affairs, says the introduction of the bill is encouraging, but the window for taking action is closing, making continued advocacy more important than ever.
"We are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Bera and Bucshon to undo the damage of these cuts by taking this important bipartisan step to ensure ongoing patient care," Elliott said. "But Congress must act during the lame duck session after the election in order to avoid these cuts — and that means we need to continue to let lawmakers know how crucial it is that they act as soon as possible."
APTA continues to offer an easy way to contact legislators via its Physician Fee Schedule advocacy page. Resources links to communication tools for association members and nonmembers, including patients and other stakeholders.
Speaking Up Makes a Difference
"The fact that we're seeing bipartisan efforts in the House is the best proof yet that grassroots advocacy works," Elliott said. "Legislators and their staff pay attention when messages are delivered in a unified voice, delivered in large numbers, and delivered often. We're cutting through all the noise on Capitol Hill right now."
Besides H.R. 8702, the latest sign of progress arrived in the form of a letter from U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to Senate leaders urging them to provide relief to providers targeted for Medicare cuts in 2021. Daines argues that the cuts "will further strain our state's health care system and practitioners already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and could also jeopardize patient access to medically necessary services in the long term."
Daines joins a growing number of lawmakers calling for the cuts to be stopped. This article describes other developments on Capitol Hill and rounds up APTA's recent advocacy efforts.