Congress Postpones Medicare Pay Cuts for Doctors

31 Dec

With the help of a Senate Finance Committee, a bill has been passed to freeze Medicare reimbursements at current levels for another 12 months. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 on December 9.

The bill, which is effective January 1, 2011, will eliminate the 25 percent cut in reimbursements that doctors would have faced. Needless to say, doctors are happy with the move, even if it only solves the issue for another 12 months.

"Stopping the steep 25 percent Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors’ access to physician care in 2011," said Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Association.

The House vote was nearly unanimous, at 409 to 2. President Obama just has to sign the new law and it will take effect, and since he was already a champion for the cause, that should not be an issue.

This is also good news for elderly patients, since some doctors have said that the dwindling Medicare payments and a further cut would have meant that they could no longer see new Medicare patients. In fact, surveys have shown that up to 43 percent of doctors who see Medicare patients would stop seeing them if the pay cut would have gone through.

"One of our top priorities next year will be to make (the fix) permanent, so our seniors can find doctors," said Rep. Wally Herger, Republican from Chico, Califnornia.

The only two in the House to vote against the bill were Brian Baird (D, WA) and Tom McClintock (R, CA-04).

Lawmakers have faced this same issue every year since the ’90s. But every year they "kick the can" ahead, so to speak.

"The fix is helpful," said Tricia Neuman, a vice-president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its Medicare Policy Project. But "similar problems will resurface next year because the underlying sustainable growth formula for physician payments has not been reformed."

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