Despite a scheduled 4.4% cut in Medicare payments finalized last week, help may be on the way for doctors.
Last week, the CMS announced the cuts to physician reimbursements along with a 3.7% increase in payments to hospitals for outpatient services and a 2.8% increase to home health agencies as part of a series of final rules for 2006. The rate changes take effect Jan. 1.
But Congress is working on legislation in both the Senate and the House that would boost physician payments instead of cut them. Last week, the Senate passed its spending reconciliation bill that would reverse the cuts announced and instead increased doctors' Medicare payments for 2006 by 1%. Physician associations say that without an increase in 2006 reimbursements, more medical groups will go under (See story, p. 36).
Meanwhile in the House, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) introduced still-pending legislation in July that would give doctors a 1.5% payment increase for 2006 and change how Medicare pays doctors by repealing the sustainable growth rate formula and establishing pay-for-performance bonuses.
The CMS will also pay an additional increase to sole community rural hospitals beyond the 3.7% figure, bringing the total increase to such facilities to 5.6% on average in 2006. Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association, welcomed the news. "These hospitals provide services to beneficiaries where access to providers is limited. For Medicare to maintain access, they need to make sure they continue recognizing these hospitals," he said.
Under the final rule for home health agencies, rural agencies will receive a 3.4% increase in payments, while urban facilities will see a 2.5% boost, the CMS said.