Capitol Hill Report: MedPAC Open to Definition Change? AAN Lobbying Continues

October 20, 2011

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 506-7468, mamery@aan.com

In my last Capitol Hill Report, I discussed MedPAC's recommendation that Congress freeze payments to "primary care" physicians for ten years and while cutting all specialists by nearly 18 percent over three years followed by a seven-year freeze in payments.

Since then, MedPAC has released a formal letter to Congress outlining the specifics of this recommendation.

In this letter they note that their proposal underscores the urgency and complexity of the problem and the degree of sacrifice that would be entailed if the costs of a Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula repeal were offset entirely within the Medicare program. They also note that Congress could choose to find offsets outside Medicare.

Even though their final recommendation would still cut specialists' payments by nearly 18 percent they noted that expanded definitions of primary care and/or protected services are possible. We believe that this "clarification" is the result of Academy efforts along with our Cognitive Specialty Coalition partners.

AAN Lobbying Needs Your Support

Beginning with AAN President Bruce Sigsbee's meetings with House and Senate leadership just after MedPAC floated the idea of a substantial cut to everyone but primary care, the AAN has been on Capitol Hill every day expressing our opposition to the proposed cuts and proposing alternatives that would ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have access to neurologists. If you have not yet sent a message to your members of Congress on this issue, please do so today. Congress holds all the cards now: either to approve or reject MedPAC's recommendation, or to address SGR in the Joint Committee on Debt Reduction. You must let them know—today—how you want them to address this crucial issue.

Blue Dog Member Addresses AAN

Pictured from left to right are Rod Larson, AAN Chief Health Policy Officer, Rep. Jim Matheson, and President Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN

I recently received a call from Rep. Jim Matheson's (D-UT) office saying the congressman would be in the Twin Cities and asked if the Academy would like him to stop by our international headquarters. Of course I invited him to visit, as it happened that the AAN Committee on Sections was meeting on the day he was going to be in town.

Matheson is a six-term member of Congress and leader in the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats. He also is a member of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Matheson's wife is a physician and he has been a supporter of the physician community for many years. The Academy has supported him as well through several contributions from BrainPAC since 2008.

Matheson spoke to more than 60 AAN leaders about the current political atmosphere in Washington with regard to health policy issues, including President Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN, and President Elect Timothy A. Pedley, MD, FAAN, as well as AAN Executive Director and CEO Catherine M. Rydell, CAE, and Chief Health Policy Officer Rod Larson.

Matheson was well received and his remarks included assurances that Congress would act on the SGR encouraged the audience. Matheson also commented on his support for comprehensive medical malpractice reform. He was the only Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to support a recent committee vote on a medical liability reform bill (HR 5) supported for many years by the Academy.

The Academy was pleased to host Rep. Matheson and it just goes to show that our congressional outreach is getting the AAN noticed on Capitol Hill.

AAN Sports Neurology Section Chair Jeffrey S. Kutcher, MD Testifies Before Senate Commerce Committee

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation recently invited Jeffrey S. Kutcher, MD, founder and chair of the AAN Sports Neurology Section, to testify at a hearing focusing on concussions in sports and the marketing of "anti-concussion" or "concussion-reducing" sports equipment. Kutcher's congressional testimony focused on the nature of concussions and the potential harm being caused by false claims made by sports product manufacturers.

Kutcher's expertise comes from serving as team physician at the University of Michigan and is the director of Michigan NeuroSport, the University of Michigan's comprehensive academic program in sports neurology. Kutcher's invitation to testify came on the heels of two trips he made to Washington, DC, where I joined him in discussing concussion policy implications with key lawmakers in Congress.

Kutcher was instrumental in helping the AAN work with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) in drafting the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act (S. 601), which would ensure that new and reconditioned football helmets youth athletes meet safety standards that address concussion risks. The bill also increases potential penalties for using false injury prevention claims to sell helmets and other sports equipment.

Read Dr. Kutcher's full testimony here.