President Barack Obama signed legislation late April 15 that temporarily holds off a steep cut in physician Medicare payments and lengthens benefits under the COBRA program.
Yet another SGR reprieve
The legislation extends until June 1 the current higher level of physician payment, and extends until May 1 federal assistance for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act premiums.
The legislation also effectively reverses an interpretation by the CMS in a rule it issued in December that made many hospital-based physicians ineligible for federal electronic health-record subsidy payments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The new law attempts to clarify that Congress wants physicians who work both in hospitals and in outpatient settings to be eligible for subsidies to computerize their offices.
Although Obama's signature on the legislation came the same day that a scheduled 21.2% cut in reimbursement went into effect, the CMS said that the extension is retroactive to April 1. The scheduled reductions are the result of Medicare's sustainable growth-rate formula, which by law is used to calculate reimbursement.
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,” Obama 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.”
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.”
—with Joseph Conn
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