Interest fee

HHS Secretary Expresses Interest in Medicare Fee Schedule Reform

WASHINGTON — HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday that he’s “definitely interested” in looking at Medicare physician fee schedule reform.

“I’m really interested, because I remember those ‘cliffs’ when I was in Congress,” Becerra said during a briefing with a small group of health reporters, referring to his time as a member. of the House when Congress had to vote each year to avoid a mandatory reduction in Medicare payments to doctors. “We’ve always had to deal with those, and you would never want professionals…thinking there’s another profession for them down the line because they just can’t make ends meet there. where they are. So we would like to be in solidarity.”

In addition to reforming the fee schedule, the administration is also working to increase the supply of doctors, Becerra said during the briefing, which was held as part of a celebration of his first year as a as Secretary of HHS. “And we’re trying to drive more of those professionals into areas that have had a shortage” of health professionals. He noted that his son-in-law, who is completing a residency in pediatrics, will soon begin working in an underserved area of ​​central California, and through a federal loan repayment program, agreeing to work in that community for 5 years. , “he avoids hundreds of thousands of dollars” in medical school debt.

Ask by MedPage today what he thought about the Medicare Payments Assessment Commission’s (MedPAC) recommendation earlier in the week that physicians should not receive a Medicare Physician Fee Schedule update in 2023, Becerra said: “We will be looking closely where we can. We have just put out…resilience funding to help a large number of suppliers whose workers have been under too much stress, that they are using it to increase the remuneration, which he gives [clinicians] leave, whether it’s providing additional training, we’ve given them the flexibility, but what we’re doing is increasing the capacity of the health sector to ensure that providers are adequately compensating their workforce ‘artwork. »

Becerra was questioned on several other topics; he was circumspect about what the administration might do within its authority to reduce prescription drug costs if Congress did not act on the matter. “We’ve looked at what we can do” on the issue independently of Congress, Becerra said; Democrats’ Build Back Better Act — which includes several provisions aimed at reducing drug prices — appears to have stalled. “How fast and where we’re launching – the president will make that call. We’re going to provide him with everything [that] we can try to do, and hopefully Congress will give us more tools in that toolbox.”

MedPage today also asked Becerra what he hoped to do in the area of ​​patient civil rights. “We want to protect everyone’s constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination, whether it is discrimination on the basis of race, [national] origin, religion or [sexual] guidance,” he said. “We want to make sure you know your rights will be protected.

Becerra said HHS took “aggressive action” in response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R)’s directive to the Department of State Protective and Family Services to “promptly and thoroughly investigate” all cases of sex reassignment procedures. in children; Abbott said such procedures constitute child abuse under Texas law.

“We will continue to defend everyone’s rights. We will base our actions on the law,” Becerra said. The department recently released guidance stating that health care providers are not required to disclose patient information related to gender-affirming care, regardless of Texas action.

When specifically asked if he would keep the Conscience and Religious Liberty Division open — a unit of the HHS Office for Civil Rights that began during the Trump administration — Becerra did not answer directly. “We will continue to do the work on religious freedom and conscience; we will continue to do the work on sexual orientation discrimination,” he said. “Nothing changes in terms of our enforcement and our efforts to try to investigate.”

Regarding what Becerra learned in his first year on the job, the secretary named misinformation as an issue that surprised him somewhat. “Would I have thought there would be so many people saying that ivermectin is a better drug to help you avoid getting sick or dying from COVID than the mRNA vaccines we have? No. But that’s where we are,” he said. . “There is apparently [state] legislatures seeking to pass a law stipulating that we must reimburse the use of unproven drugs. This level of misinformation that I could never have expected, especially for something like a pandemic where we actually have treatments that have been shown to be life-saving. »

“I think we need to do a better job of getting the facts to the American public,” he said. “I was in Chico, CA earlier this week; it has some of the highest vaccine hesitancy rates. I’ve spoken to a number of pediatricians and their public health officials — they have to fight the misinformation that’s baked into what a lot of families think… So we have some work to do.

Becerra said it also wants to do more to fight antimicrobial resistance (AMR). “We try to focus on antimicrobial resistance because it’s something that’s totally preventable…The problem here, of course, is that you can’t get a lot of companies in the pharmaceutical industry to focus on that because they’re not making a lot of money. And somehow we have to produce the next generation of antimicrobials. And I know internationally we’ve said to our counterparts that we were going to focus on that, but at the national level it’s a big concern.

  • Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s coverage in Washington, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, professional health associations and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience in health policy. To follow