It has become an annual ritual: after mandated substantial cuts in Medicare payments to physicians, many practitioners threaten to leave the program, putting the elderly population's health at risk—a scenario averted only after Congress steps in at the last minute and delays the cuts. But this year the ritual is sacrificing funding earmarked for prevention and public health programs, and no one providing health care in any venue appears to be happy about the situation.
At issue is Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula, which called for a 27% cut in physician payments starting on March 1, totaling about $17 billion for the year. But Congress passed, and the president signed, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. That legislation paid for the 27% shortfall through December 31 by taking $5 billion from the newly created Prevention and Public Health Fund and the rest from monies earmarked for hospitals, clinical laboratories, and other health care entities. And the Medicare payment problem will only get only worse as the sustainable growth rate formula calls for a 32% reduction beginning January 1, 2013.