Doctors on March 1 will face a 21% cut to Medicare physician payments because of the Senate's inability to act on a temporary measure to halt the scheduled reduction.
Legislation to stave off the cut to physician payments for 30 days passed easily enough in the House Thursday evening, but was blocked repeatedly in the Senate by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who claims the fix to the sustainable growth-rate formula, along with other Medicare extensions in the bill, would add to the national debt.
Medical groups in statements voiced their immediate displeasure with lawmakers. “Our message to the U.S. Senate is stop playing games with Medicare patients and the physicians who care for them,” said J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association. “It is shocking that the Senate would abandon our most vulnerable patients, making them the collateral damage of their procedural games.”
This inaction “has put elderly and disabled patients at risk of losing access to care and imposed potentially devastating fiscal hardship on physicians,” said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Kevin Burke, AAFP's director of government relations, expects the Senate will take up the SGR fix again early next week. The hope is the CMS will withhold Medicare payments to doctors until a temporary reprieve to the cuts is issued, to prevent physicians from having to re-file claims to restore the 21% cut, Burke said.