The CMS will take action to halt the 10.6% cut to physician payments for another two weeks, the agency announced in a memo to congressional committees. The latest action from the CMS buys Congress more time to achieve a bipartisan compromise on the physician payment issue.
In the meantime, lawmakers may feel the heat for failing to approve legislation that would have replaced the cut with a payment freeze for the balance of the year, and then boosting payments by 1.1% in 2009. The 10.6% cut was scheduled to go into effect July 1. The Texas Medical Association announced that it is withdrawing its endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for not supporting the legislation.
According to the memo from Elizabeth Hall, the CMS director for its Legislation Office, the agency will instruct its contractors to hold off on processing any physician and nonphysician practitioner claims for the first 10 business days of July. By holding claims for healthcare services that are delivered on or after July 1, CMS will not be making any payments on the 10.6% reduction until July 15, at the earliest, Hall said in the memo. The agency is considering additional actions it could take to address other expiring Medicare and Medicaid provisions, according to the memo.
The memo was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, House and Senate Appropriations and Budget committees, and staff. Finance Committee members Sens. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, characterized the CMS' announcement as misleading. In a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, they said current law already requires claims to be held for 13 days prior to payment for electronically submitted claims. "It is our view that this Administration is misleading the public by claiming to provide a 'temporary hold' on payment...in order to give the appearance of being helpful to doctors in the Medicare program." -- by Jennifer Lubell