Flaws in our fee-for-service-based healthcare system are being amplified under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospital and care systems across Minnesota are significantly reducing inpatient and outpatient volumes in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and give our healthcare infrastructure as much time as possible to prepare for the influx of patients requiring resource-intensive treatment. This necessary reduction in volume and services does not negate the importance or value of primary care, which continues to be the front line of our healthcare system.
Managing complex, chronic conditions; caring for acute illness and keeping people healthy through preventive medicine are the hallmarks of primary care—and, specifically, family medicine. Primary care practices have rose to the challenge and rapidly transitioned to offer telehealth visits. They are not losing sight of their patients’ ongoing medical needs, both related and unrelated to COVID-19.
However, in the face of unprecedented financial upheaval, many physicians, nurses and other valued members of the healthcare team are being furloughed or laid off, all while our state braces itself for the surge of COVID-19.
The need for robust primary care has never been greater, and the consequences of the way primary care is under-valued and poorly reimbursed are on full display.
Preserve, Build & Advocate for Primary Care
The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians urges health systems and payers across Minnesota to take the necessary steps to preserve, build and advocate for a strong primary care infrastructure, especially now.
Why Is Primary Care So Important?
1) Investment in continuity primary care will help keep patients as healthy as possible and out of emergency rooms and hospitals.
2) In many of Minnesota’s communities, family physicians are the number one providers of medical care. Minnesota’s family physicians make up more than 50% of physicians practicing in small, rural communities and more than 66% of physicians practicing in isolated areas (2017 Overview of the Physician Workforce, Minnesota Department of Health).
3) Family physicians are well trained to take care of the entire family from birth to death and everything in between, serving in a variety of settings (outpatient, inpatient, emergency care, maternity care, telehealth and more). These are exactly the kind of skills, versatility and flexibility needed in this constantly evolving crisis.
Primary care and family physicians are adapting and ask that payers and health systems adapt to these times as well. We need to continue to deliver high quality, cost-saving primary and emergency care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that cannot be done without the proper financial infrastructure and support for our front line healthcare workers and clinics.
At the federal level, Medicare is offering advance/accelerated payments: “In order to lessen financial hardship and increase cash flow to physicians and clinicians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded its current Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. This allows physician practices to request an advance of up to 100% of the Medicare payment amount for a three-month period.”
We ask that all private and public payers consider similar investments in our clinics and communities in Minnesota. This is, literally, about keeping the front line open and prepared to continue to serve the people of our great state.
To our more than 3,100 family physician members across Minnesota, we see you, we’re proud of you and we’re fighting for you. Thank you for all you do to care for your patients and our communities!
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Authors: Renée Crichlow, MD, FAAFP, MAFP President; Alex Sharp, MD, MAFP member; Jami Burbidge, MAM, MAFP Director of Advocacy & Engagement; Emie Buege, MAFP communications
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