Healthcare Business News

House passes bill to prevent physician rate cuts

By Jennifer Lubell
Posted: February 26, 2010 - 8:45 am ET

The House on Thursday evening approved legislation that would extend several expiring Medicare provisions, including a measure to stave off a 21.2% cut to physician payments for 30 days.

The legislation would also grant temporary extensions to unemployment insurance, COBRA subsidies and other smaller Medicare items.

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The outlook, however, is less clear in the Senate, where one senator has objected to the extensions because some of the measures are not financially offset.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has on several occasions tried to move the package quickly, using a legislative maneuver that requires all senators to first agree to it in exchange for a fast-tracked vote. But retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) has blocked the move, saying that to pass it as is would add to the national debt.

The provisions have instead landed on a second bill meant to increase jobs nationally while keeping the ones already on payroll. That package could move as early as today, although its size and scope could prove troublesome for Democrats.

If the physician funding isn't passed, “fasten your seat belts,” said William Golden, professor of medicine and public health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in an interview. “Access will be a problem and the mood of doctors will be most foul.” If the issue of Medicare payment cuts doesn't get resolved swiftly, “there could be a wave of retirements,” he predicted.

Medicare's sustainable growth-rate formula, or SGR, is based on the health of the economy and has been threatening cuts to physicians since 2003.

Lawmakers, distracted by the larger healthcare reform effort and jobs creation, have yet to deliver on the one thing physicians want most: a permanent fix to Medicare's physician payment problem.

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