CMA tells Congress that more COVID-19 relief needed to sustain physician practices

With more than 70% of physicians still concerned about the financial health of their practices, the California Medical Association (CMA) is urging Congress to continue to support physicians and their staff during this unrelenting pandemic.

The second year of the pandemic truly tested physician stamina. Frontline physicians fought burn-out and massive health staffing shortages, all physicians worked to sustain the viability of their practices, and physicians began to address the secondary impacts of the pandemic – worsening health conditions caused by delays in care, as well as a tsunami of mental health and substance abuse issues.

CMA warned Congress that the long-term fall-out from the pandemic would be felt by patients for years to come and fundamentally alter the long-term stability of physician practices threatening access to care throughout California. With the Omicron variant, hospitalizations are at record levels. Frontline physicians are fighting widespread burn-out, substantial revenue losses and massive health care staffing shortages. Physicians are also addressing the secondary impacts of the pandemic – worsening patient health conditions caused by delays in care, as well as a tsunami of patient mental health and substance abuse problems.

CMA is urging Congress to help physicians continue to respond to the pandemic by distributing the remaining Provider Relief Fund funds immediately and to replenish the fund to ensure the long-term stability of the health care system. CMA is also urging Congress to extend the Medicare sequestration waiver and stop the cuts until the end of the public health emergency. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congress has waived the 2% sequestration cut in Medicare payments to providers, but the most recent legislation only blocks the cut until April 1, 2022.

At the beginning of the pandemic Congress also provided advance payments through the Medicare program, similar to short-term loans. The repayments are due soon and CMA is urging Congress to push back the repayment schedule to allow physicians additional time to repay these loans.

Two years of sustained financial and staffing pressures have pushed almost one in three physicians to consider consolidation, either in the form of becoming employed by or being acquired by a health system, hospital or other entity, in favor of financial stability, decreased administrative hassle and better access to reliable staffing. Additionally, some physicians note they are now preparing for an early retirement due to the physical, mental and financial stress of the pandemic or have already had to close their practices. CMA’s alarming survey findings underscores the need to address these pressures so that physicians are able to continue serving their patients during the pandemic and beyond.