Letter to the Editor: State medical societies urge Congress to fight for funding

EDITOR’S NOTE: This joint letter was submitted to Congress on June 18.

On behalf of the tens of thousands of physicians collectively represented by our associations, and the millions of patients we treat, we are urging that Congress continue to fight for needed funding in the next stimulus package to assist community physician practices to be able to keep their doors open for their patients. Like many businesses, our physicians have faced a devastating impact on their practices as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

At stake is access to care for the patients we serve and the staff we employ. With patients having appropriately limited their trips out of the house, including to their doctor’s offices, along with all elective procedures being suspended for months, the impact has devastated practices and the hundreds of thousands of those physicians employed by community physician practice.

For example, a survey by the Medical Society of the State of New York found that 79% of physicians had seen a reduction of more than 50% in the volume of patients visiting their practices; nearly three-quarters had a greater than 50% drop in practice revenue; and 40% had to lay off or furlough at least 25% of their staff.

While the survey also demonstrated that the CARES Act enacted by Congress in March and supplemented in April helped to marginally offset some of these enormous deficits, it has been nowhere near enough to ensure the survival of many physician practices across the states.

We urge that you fight to ensure that the final package includes important protections, including a restart of the Medicare Advance Payment Program and assurance that grant funding is dedicated to community physician practices without size restrictions or employee thresholds. So far, community physicians have only received a microscopic portion of the billions in grant funding allocated by Congress in the CARES Act, which has mostly benefited large health systems. While our hospitals must be protected and strengthened, so too must our community physicians on whom our patients depend.

We also urge that the next stimulus bill include provisions to ensure that critically important expanded telehealth coverage rules are maintained – including required coverage by Employee Retirement Income Security Act plans not subject to state regulation – but also rejecting industry efforts to fulfill network adequacy requirements only through telehealth at the expense of in-person care.

We also urge that the market-dominant health insurers who faced a significant drop in claim submissions ensure that their windfall profits are shared with their contracted physicians, including through support for the huge increase in personal protective equipment costs. For example, Aetna recently announced that its claims submissions had dropped by 30% during April at the height of the pandemic.

Moreover, it is critically important that any proposal to address surprise out-of-network medical bills are consistent with demonstrated successful laws, such as New York’s groundbreaking solution, rather than one-sided solutions advanced by the market-dominant health insurance industry that could potentially adversely impact patient access to essential on-call specialty care in emergency departments across the state. Now is not the time to disrupt our health care safety net.

Critically important as well is providing support for those physicians, residents and students who provided front-line care to patients while putting their life and health at risk, including hazard pay and/or student loan relief. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., has advanced important legislation (House Resolution 6720) that would achieve this goal.

To repeat: We are extremely concerned about the stability of our health care system given these enormous losses. The next package coming out of Congress must help to preserve our states’ health care infrastructure, including community physician practices. This is not only essential for the hundreds of thousands of jobs we provide, but most importantly, to ensure we can continue to be able to treat our patients who continue to depend upon us as we begin to recover from this crisis.

Connecticut State Medical Society
Medical Society of Delaware
MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society
Medical Society of New Jersey
Medical Society of the State of New York
Ohio State Medical Association