Congress Fails to Prevent April 1 Cut in Medicare Physician Payments

Last night, the Senate held floor debate on a bill, H.R. 4851, that would extend a number of expiring programs through April. The bill had already passed the House and included a 30-day extension of current Medicare physician payment rates, again postponing the 21.3 percent cut scheduled to take effect in 2010.  It also addressed a number of other programs such as extensions of COBRA benefits and unemployment insurance benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs.  

In a replay of the standoff that occurred a month ago, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected to the bill’s consideration, on the basis that it should not be considered emergency spending that would be exempt from budgetary offsets. As a result, Congress will adjourn for its two-week spring recess without taking action to stop these programs from expiring. The AMA has informed the NCMS that the Senate plans to hold a cloture vote after the recess which, if supported by 60 Senators, will allow a vote to occur on the legislation.  That vote could occur as early as April 12.

In the meantime, the 21.3 percent Medicare physician payment cut will take effect on April 1. The AMA says Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be making an announcement about their plans for handling the situation. If past experience is any indication, CMS will not be forced to process claims at the reduced payment rates for 10 business days.

The NCMS is actively in contact with the NC Congressional Delegation on this issue and is working in concert with the AMA to fix this long-standing problem.  We will be providing updates in the Bulletin, at http://www.ncmedsoc.org/ and on the Doctor-to-Doctor Blog.

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