Saturday, November 28, 2020

COVID wave demands new thinking

by Pamela Cutler
| November 22, 2020 12:00 AM

This year has been different in so many ways, however one way it will remain the same is that flu season is coming. Montana physicians and the Montana Medical Association see this flu season likely to place an unprecedented strain on our health care system thanks to COVID-19. Chills and sore throats, that might have been treated with a few days of fluids and rest in past years, will now require additional scrutiny and monitoring. In the coming months we will certainly need our health care providers even more than we did in March and April.

These realities make the recent decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to slash their physician reimbursement schedule unbelievably mind-boggling.

On paper, the change might make sense; after all, CMS is required by law to be budget-neutral. However, this is a textbook example of the law failing to meet changing times. If there was ever a time to divert budget resources to health care, this is it. The coming COVID wave will demand increased capacity, and our budget guidelines must change to meet that demand.

Congress has the power to override CMS’s fee schedule – a power which Montana’s congressional delegation and their colleagues must use now. We need our frontline health-care providers to be at full strength for the coming months. CMS’s proposed rate cuts will severely hamper their ability to rise to the challenges ahead.

We appreciate U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester opposing this change. On Oct. 27, Daines sent a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders stating: “I have heard from Montanans that these payment cuts will further strain our state’s health-care system and practitioners already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and could also jeopardize patient access to medically necessary services over the long-term,” Daines wrote. “I stand ready to work with you to prevent these harmful cuts and support Montana’s physicians and other health care professionals who are on the frontlines of this pandemic to continue ensuring Montanans across the state can access necessary medical services”

We 100% agree with Senator Daines, and Senator Tester does, too. Please urge Congress to stop these cuts.

Dr. Pamela V Cutler is President of Montana Medical Association. She lives in Missoula.