President Barack Obama late Thursday signed legislation that temporarily holds off a steep cut in physician payment.
Obama signs bill to delay doc pay cut
Both the House and Senate yesterday approved a package of short-term “extenders,” which includes a freeze on the Medicare payment formula used to reimburse doctors and continues a financial reprieve for the unemployed who rely on COBRA health benefits.
Obama lauded the congressional action, but said more is needed.
“In these tough economic times, it is more critical than ever to bring relief to Americans who are working every day to find a job, and families that are struggling to make ends meet,” the president said in a written statement. “But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year.”
The House passed the $18 billion package Thursday evening, 289-112. Earlier, the Senate advanced the bill, 59-38.
The votes came on the same day that a scheduled 21.2% pay cut officially went into effect. It's possible that Medicare's payment contractors could process some claims with the cut in play.
Officials at the American Medical Association alerted their members that they expect any claims processed during this time to be made retroactive at the higher pay schedule.
The legislation extends until June 1 the current higher level of physician payment, but also extends federal assistance for COBRA premiums until May 1.
Lawmakers battled over the past several weeks whether the legislation should be financially offset. Democrats have said the measure, which also extends unemployment benefits, should be considered emergency spending. Under such a move, Congress would not necessarily have to pay for the legislation.
Republicans, however, countered that the bill would add to the federal deficit and offered alternatives that would offset the spending.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that while the short-term physician fix was necessary, a complete overhaul of the payment formula is a must. But asked if the Senate would take up such a measure, the senator said she wasn't sure.
“I'd love to, that's my goal,” Stabenow said, adding, “but I'm not sure.”
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