Physician leaders from the Iowa Medical Society were in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to urge Iowa's congressional delegation to co-sponsor landmark legislation that would strengthen Medicare by updating the program's troubled payment system.

The legislation would repeal the so-called sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for determining physicians' payments. If no action is taken before April 1, the formula will mandate a 24.1 percent cut to Medicare physician payments.

Congress has long debated the shortcomings of the policy, resulting in a costly 11-year pattern of fiscal procrastination that has frustrated physicians, threatened patients' access to care, and created a growing budgetary dilemma from which Congress has struggled to emerge.

Under the legislation, which was introduced a month ago, doctors would receive a 0.5 percent increase in payments for each of the next five years as Medicare transitions to a payment system designed to reward physicians based on the quality of care provided, rather than the quantity, as the current payment formula does, according to a Kaiser Health article.  

"The clock is ticking," said Dr. Jeffrey Maire, the Iowa Medical Society's president-elect. "We need decisive support from all our lawmakers to strengthen the Medicare program to provide better health care for Iowa's half-million Medicare patients and to advocate for value-based payments for Iowa physicians."

The physicians' group, which represents nearly 5,300 doctors in Iowa, is also supporting a measure to enact a permanent 1 percent floor on the geographic practice cost indexes, which doctors say tend to hurt rural states. A permanent floor would be better than seeking a reauthorization of the floor as Congress has done each year since 2004, the group said.