Medicare physician pay cut gets monthlong delay from Congress

Doctors still face a 25% reduction in Medicare pay set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Nov. 29, 2010

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The House on Nov. 29 approved a Senate measure to delay by one month a 23% Medicare physician pay cut scheduled to take effect Dec. 1. President Obama is expected to sign the bill quickly.

The House approved the measure -- the Physician Payment and Therapy Relief Act of 2010 -- with a voice vote. The Senate unanimously approved the bill on Nov. 18.

American Medical Association President Cecil B. Wilson, MD, thanked Congress for enacting the patch before the Dec. 1 deadline. However, he called on Congress to act in early December to delay a 25% pay cut scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2011. The AMA and others are seeking another patch through 2011 so the next Congress will have time to adopt a permanent solution to Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula.

"It is crucial that Congress act well before the Jan. 1 deadline so there are no disruptions in care for seniors," Dr. Wilson said. "The oldest baby boomers will ring in the new year as the first of their generation to turn 65 and will begin relying on Medicare. Congress is responsible for ensuring that the baby boomers can see a doctor through Medicare by enacting long-term reform next year of the broken Medicare physician payment system."

The one-month patch, estimated to cost $1 billion, will be paid for using the Medicare savings from a new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policy that reduces payments for multiple therapy services provided to patients in a single day, according to the authors of the measure, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D, Mont.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R, Iowa), the panel's highest-ranking GOP member.

Delaying the 25% Medicare physician pay cut through the end of 2011 would cost $17 billion, according to Baucus and Grassley, who are working on a bill to delay the cut by one year.

The same day as the House vote, the Connecticut State Medical Society issued a survey showing that doctors would stop seeing patients unless a pay cut were averted. It was the latest survey by a medical organization to say that physicians may be forced to limit or stop treating Medicare patients.

Nearly one-third of Connecticut physicians said they would be forced to limit the number of new Medicare or Tricare patients they see, according to the Connecticut society's statewide survey of 360 physicians. The survey, conducted in November, showed that 19% of physicians would stop seeing Medicare and Tricare patients altogether. Tricare is the program that delivers health care for members of the military and their dependents and military retirees.

"Just because 94% of Connecticut physicians participate in the Medicare program doesn't mean that every patient has access to the care they need right now," CSMS President David S. Katz, MD, said in a statement. "Many physicians already limit the appointment slots for Medicare and Tricare patients."

Connecticut has about 562,000 Medicare patients and 50,992 military members and their families in Tricare, according to the CSMS.

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