CMS' proposed pay cuts could have 'detrimental effects on physicians'

Physicians nationwide have expressed concern over CMS' suggested 3.34 percent conversion factor decrease from its proposed Medicare physician fee schedule for 2024.

Emanuel Haug, MD, an orthopedic surgery adult reconstruction fellow at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, connected with Becker's to discuss the proposal. 

Note: This response has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Emanuel Haug: It is my belief that implementing these cuts will have detrimental effects on physicians, exacerbate existing economic pressures, contribute to the worsening physician shortage and ultimately affect patient care.

First and foremost, physicians are already facing significant economic challenges due to a multitude of factors, such as rising overhead costs, declining reimbursement rates and increasing administrative burdens. Implementing further fee schedule cuts will only exacerbate these issues, leading to an unsustainable financial environment for physicians. The resulting strain on their practices will have far-reaching consequences for patient care and access to quality healthcare. 

One of the most concerning outcomes of these proposed cuts is the potential increase in physicians leaving the workforce. As the economic pressures on physicians continue to mount, many may be forced to consider early retirement or seek alternative career paths. This would have a devastating impact on the healthcare system, as it would exacerbate the already severe physician shortage we are facing today. Patients would be left with limited options for medical care, leading to longer wait times, reduced access to specialists and an overall decline in the quality of healthcare services.

Furthermore, the proposed fee schedule cuts may inadvertently contribute to the consolidation of smaller physician practices and the rise of large hospital systems. With diminished financial resources, independent practices will find it increasingly challenging to compete and sustain their operations. As a result, many may be forced to merge with or be acquired by larger hospital systems, leading to decreased competition and potential monopolistic control in certain regions. This consolidation not only limits patient choice but also hampers the innovation and flexibility that smaller practices often provide.

Ultimately, the consequences of these fee schedule cuts will directly impact patient care. The physician shortage, reduced competition and the dominance of large hospital systems will all contribute to compromised access to timely and personalized healthcare services. Patient outcomes may suffer as a result, with longer wait times for appointments, reduced face-to-face time with physicians, and potentially compromised quality of care due to overwhelmed healthcare providers.

In light of these concerns, I strongly urge leadership to reconsider the proposed CMS physician fee schedule cuts for 2024. It is crucial to prioritize the sustainability of physician practices and the accessibility of healthcare services for patients. By working collaboratively with physicians and other stakeholders, we can strive to find alternative solutions that address cost concerns without compromising the integrity of our healthcare system.

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