As the health care reform debate began over a year ago, the American Medical Association, the top doctors group in the country, released a list of its top priorities for health reform. The AMA is a powerful association, and many have credited it with helping to kill HillaryCare, so the organization, of which I am a member, was in a good position to impact President Obama’s health care reform plan and accomplish some of doctors’ long-awaited goals. Remember, without doctors, there is no health care, so it is important that health reform address the issues that are important to doctors and will help them keep their doors open and better serve America’s patients.
Two of the AMA’s top priorities are also two of the main reasons I decided to run for Congress almost 10 years ago – repealing the flawed Medicare physician payment formula, and nationwide medical liability reform. Unfortunately for doctors, Democrats in Washington, who have had control of Congress for over 3 years, have shown absolutely no signs of seriously addressing either of these issues. But with the AMA’s clout, I was hopeful that this time, with comprehensive health care reform a major goal for President Obama, these two big issues would finally be addressed.
Last May the AMA was one of six health-related industries to meet at the White House on health reform, and this gave me even more confidence that doctors may actually be close to fixing the Medicare physician payment formula and medical justice reform. So I was very surprised when last summer the AMA endorsed Democrats’ health reform…before a bill was even introduced!! And even more surprised was I when the AMA also endorsed the reform bill that is now law, with a doc fix and liability reform nowhere to be found.
The final legislation signed into law by President Obama last week had no doc fix and the lamest excuse for medical liability reform I have ever seen – a few million dollars for states to conduct pilot programs. In 2003, Texas passed one of the most successful medical liability reforms in the country, taking the state from a condition where doctors were fleeing to other parts of the country before 2003, to one where the state medical licensing board cannot keep up with the thousands of doctors now flocking to the state to practice medicine. So who needs a pilot program? I have a bill to make national medical liability reforms – H.R. 1468, the Medical Justice Act, which would implement Texas-style medical liability reforms on a national level. I believe all Americans, and all of America’s doctors, are entitled to the kind of reforms that have made Texas one of the best places in the country for doctors to practice medicine. I also have a bill to repeal and replace the flawed SGR formula that Medicare uses to determine physician payment – H.R. 3693, the Ensuring the Future Physician Workforce Act. Medicare’s physician fee schedule will pay doctors less this year for the same patients and services they provided last year, and this flawed formula needs a permanent fix. This legislation would give doctors and patients the sustainability and reliability they really need.
But like I said, ObamaCare included neither Medicare physician payment reform or liability reform. So today, on National Doctor’s Day, I submit that while we as doctors know that there are many problems with our nation’s current health care system, the legislation that is now the law of the land did little, if anything, to make life easier for us. Instead, health reform ignored, despite the clout I thought the AMA had, two of the top priorities that we have asked for year after year. More Americans will have health insurance, which is a good thing, and there will be more IRS agents, but whether or not there will be enough doctors that are able to keep practicing medicine, I believe, is a question that currently has no answer.