Physician fees would be cut by 9.9% in 2008 under a payment plan proposed by Medicare.

Physicians have suggested that poor pay rates could cause more physicians to bolt from the federal health -care program and prevent elderly patients’ access to doctorsto them.

A recent survey by the American Medical Association determined that 32% of its members would accept fewer new Medicare patients if fees are slashed by nearly 10%, while 28% said they would stop accepting new Medicare patients altogether.

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) could have lowered the cut to 7.9% by drawing on a $1.35 billion fund created in 2006, the agency elected instead to implement a bonus payments program for doctors who report on the quality of their care through the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative.

The proposal aims to “transform Medicare into an active purchaser of higher quality services, rather than just paying for procedures,” said acting CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk.

Many physicians voiced frustration with the implementation of a bonus program over payments that keep pace with increases in practice costs. “CMS has chosen to spend all of the money to provide just 1.5% to 2% to physicians who report on certain quality measures,” said AMA board member Cecil B. Wilson. “The AMA is extremely disappointed in this short-sighted decision.”

Congress is likely to pass legislation later this year to block the 9.9% cut.