Physician Groups Disappointed by Temporary Medicare Rate Patch

Physician groups expressed disappointment today over a House and Senate conference committee proposal that would delay by 10 months, but not permanently fix, a scheduled 27.4 percent cut to Medicare physician rates.

The $20 billion Congressional plan – which would also extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance benefits through the end of 2012 – would be paid for with public health funding from the federal Affordable Care Act and cuts to federal health-care and Medicaid spending, including programs for hospitals with bad debt, officials said.

A previous two-month delay to the Medicare cuts, hammered out in a dramatic year-end Congressional session, was set to expire March 1.

Late last month, the MMS, the AMA and 107 other state and specialty medical societies called on Congress to eliminate the payment formula permanently, and offsetting the costs with money budgeted, but not utilized, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

MMS president Lynda Young said today she was frustrated that lawmakers did not come up with a permanent solution, and settled for yet another short-term patch.

A true solution — a full and complete repeal of the Medicare payment formula – is long overdue,” said Dr. Young.  “We deeply appreciate the fact that the Massachusetts congressional delegation has supported reforming the payment formula and hope to work with them in the coming months to achieve this goal.”

AMA president Peter Carmel, MD, called the conferees’ action “a serious missed opportunity to permanently replace the flawed Medicare physician payment formula and protect access to care for military families and seniors.”

“People outside of Washington question the logic of spending nearly $20 billion to postpone one cut for a higher cut next year, while increasing the cost of a permanent solution by about another $25 billion,” Carmel said.

House Speaker John Boehner said he expects the tentative agreement could be voted on by the House and Senate by week’s end.

–Erica Noonan

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