Dear Congress: Don’t Abandon Arizona’s Healthcare Heroes

us capitol
(Photo courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

For nearly two years, everyone from politicians and celebrities to the average, everyday American, has rightfully touted our nation’s healthcare workers as heroes, for their courageous willingness to place their own personal safety at risk for the sake of patients in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, despite all of this, on January 1, 2022, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is set to cut payments to Arizona’s doctors and healthcare workers by as much as 10 percent for services that are covered by Medicare. This misguided pay cut would also have a profound and harmful impact on patients who are covered by Medicare. Ultimately, this would make it more difficult for those who are most in-need, including seniors and those with disabilities, to access life-saving healthcare services.

This scheduled pay cut was flawed even before the onset of the pandemic. Fast forward to today, it is downright dangerous as it poses an immediate and fundamental threat to the overall well-being of our country’s healthcare system.

Just recently, a new jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor underscored a concerning trend of jobs lost throughout the healthcare industry, citing that a jaw-dropping 524,000 healthcare professionals have left their jobs since February of last year. This heartbreaking pattern of our nation’s healthcare heroes leaving the medical profession behind is sure to continue if these crippling pay cuts to wages are imposed by CMS at the start of next year.

From a physician’s perspective, these pay cuts only make it that much harder for practices to retain staff and remain operational, which ultimately encumbers our ability to continue treating our community’s Medicare patients. Furthermore, these pay cuts will unrefutably disincentivize the next generation of Americans from pursuing professional careers in medicine, making us even less prepared to tackle the next pandemic than we were for this one.

Thankfully, our elected representatives on Capitol Hill have the power to stop all of this from happening – before it is too late. For years, Congress has delayed these very pay cuts as a result of sequestration. In fact, as recently as last year, they were postponed yet again due to the pandemic. It has been done before, which is all the more reason why it should be a no-brainer. Delaying these pay cuts, or better yet, passing legislation that would eliminate them altogether, is not only the practical thing to do, but also the right thing to do.

As an Optometrist in the Phoenix area for over 30 years, I have experienced firsthand how Medicare payments have failed to even keep up with inflation, having declined an astounding 22 percent from 2001 through last year. But for the federal government to even consider cutting the wages of healthcare workers who continue to provide critical care to some of our community’s most vulnerable patients amidst a global pandemic, specifically the recent surge of the Omicron variant, is as incomprehensible as it is cruel.

During the first 12 months of the pandemic, more than 3,600 selfless healthcare workers sacrificed their lives fighting the deadly virus, and sadly we still don’t know how much longer this whole ordeal will last. However, one thing we do know for certain is that healthcare workers, now more than ever, need unrelenting support from our elected leaders in Washington.

So, when it comes to standing up for physicians like myself as well as patients here in Arizona, I urge Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema to take swift and immediate action to prevent this devastating pay cut from going into effect, protecting our state’s most vulnerable from losing access to the critical and essential care that they rely on. We are counting on you.

Dr. Robert J Maynard, OD specializes in optometry in Phoenix, AZ and has over 54 years of experience in the field of medicine. He graduated from his medical school with his medical degree in 1967. Dr. Robert J Maynard is licensed to practice by the state board in Arizona.