House Rebuffs Senate; 27% Medicare Payment Cut Likely

In a bitter, emotional vote today, the U.S. House rejected a Senate bill that would have blocked the 27 percent Medicare reimbursement cut scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. The bill would have also extended a payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits for the same two-month period.

The House called on senators to return to Washington and negotiate their differences in a conference committee, but Democratic leaders in the Senate say they’re done for the calendar year, and won’t return until next month. Clearly, each party is gambling that the other will shoulder the blame for the breakdown.

MMS President Lynda Young MD, said, “We’re very disappointed that Congress has failed to act. Today’s vote seriously destabilizes Medicare, and causes anxiety for physicians and seniors who depend on it. The true solution — a full and complete repeal of the Medicare payment formula – is long overdue.

“We also deeply appreciate the fact the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation has supported reforming the payment formula. We look forward to working with them to achieve this goal.”

In a statement this afternoon, the AARP said, “Our members have a clear message for Congress: don’t cut our doctors’ Medicare payments.”

What about physicians? Barring a holiday miracle, the 27 percent cut will take effect on January 1, putting a severe crimp on practices’ finances. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said yesterday that its contractors won’t process any claims for January services until January 17, in the hope that Congress can pull something together. (This processing delay is part of the contractors’ normal business practice.)  If there’s no action from Congress, claims will be paid at the lower rate.

We’ll pass along more information as we get it. Check the MMS website’s Medicare page for any updates. Our Twitter feed will also post updates.

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