Cold Iron Truth

One hundred thousand reasons to donate to your political action committee (PAC)


 

Payment policy for physicians is now set at the federal level. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services generates a yearly final rule and a fee schedule, and all the Medicare carriers, AND the Medicare Advantage plans AND the private insurers use the rule and fee schedule as a payment guide.

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Sometimes these rules can be at odds with best practices for dermatology patients. That is why lobbying is so critically important for us and for our patients. Lobbying provides access to legislators and enables us to educate them about the impact of proposed changes in coverage.

Each year, SkinPAC contributes up to $5,000 a year to individual congressional races. The extent of contributions is based on an impartial scorecard that ranks congressional members by leadership position as well as the member’s understanding and history of support on our critical issues. I want to emphasize that the personal political leanings of the SkinPAC board members have no bearing on the level of support. We contribute to campaigns based on the congressional members’ positions on our issues, period. Full disclosure: I am the chair of SkinPAC for 2019-2021. This is an unpaid volunteer position.

To dermatologists who question the effectiveness of lobbying, I can attest that I have seen your political action committee contributions in action.

When Congress planned on tightening the Stark exceptions 5 years ago, our Washington office was able to gain access to key legislators. As a result of our good long-term relationships with these congress members and their staff, our lobbying group was able to explain the importance for dermatologists to be able to read their own slides and the value of global periods. Imagine the disasters of being unable to read our own dermatopathology slides, not performing diagnostic frozen sections before Mohs, and charging patients for suture removals. Lobbying efforts averted those potential catastrophes.

Unfortunately, the same issues are coming back. In the most recent Federal Register proposals, CMS again wanted to eliminate global periods and modifier 25, which allows you to bill for a procedure on the same day as an evaluation and management code. This action has been delayed for 2 years but will come back up for consideration next year.

Global periods are follow-up visits that are embedded in the destruction, excision, and repair codes that you currently use. For example, $42 of the $72 you get for destroying a premalignant lesion or a wart is a prepayment for the follow-up visit. Sure, if the global period is eliminated, you can bill the patient for the follow-up visit, but imagine the difficulty of collecting additional copays and deductibles. And imagine the impact of those additional costs on our patients.

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Cincinnati.

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron

This brings me to your 100,000 reasons to contribute to your PAC. In Medicare alone, elimination of global periods and modifier 25 will shift $1.4 billion dollars per year away from dermatology. Assuming you will be able to recoup some payment from follow-up visits and by rescheduling some procedures, you are still looking at $1 billion or so, per year, cut from about 10,000 dermatologists with the expense shifted to patients. That’s a $100,000 loss per dermatologist per year and a $1 billion per year additional responsibility for Medicare insureds.

Yes, this will require a legislative fix. And unless it is fixed, the results will be viewed as price gouging by patients with disastrous implications for the physician-patient relationship. Imagine what your patient will say when you charge them to remove their sutures.

Your SkinPAC contribution should be viewed as a disaster insurance policy, just like any other insurance you buy. It covers the very real possibility of not a hurricane or a tornado, but a catastrophic blunder that will put you out of business as surely as any natural disaster. Support your SkinPAC! Support your patients and yourself.

Dr. Coldiron is in private practice but maintains a clinical assistant professorship at the University of Cincinnati. He cares for patients, teaches medical students and residents, and has several active clinical research projects. Dr. Coldiron is the author of more than 80 scientific letters, papers, and several book chapters, and he speaks frequently on a variety of topics. He is a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. Dr. Coldiron is the chair of SkinPAC for 2019-2021; this is an unpaid volunteer position. Write to him at dermnews@mdedge.com.

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