Medicare Payment Cuts Postponed for 31 days; SGR Still Not Fixed

The Senate voted 78-19 late Tuesday evening to pass H.R. 4691, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, which included provisions to extend 2009 Medicare physician payment rates through the end of the month. As a result, the 21% payment cut that took effect on March 1 has been postponed until April 1.

As Congress was preparing to act on 4691, NCMS President Douglas Sheets, MD, and CEO, EVP Robert Seligson were in Washington, DC lobbying members of the N.C. Congressional Delegation to support a permanment fix of the sustainable growth rate (SGR), the formula used to establish Medicare physician reimbursement rates.  Also attending the 2010 National Advocacy Conference were Ophelia Garmon-Brown, MD, MDiv, President, Mecklenburg County Medical Society (MCMS); Robert “Bob” Schafermeyer, MD, President-Elect, MCMS; Carolyn Scruggs, Executive Director, MCMS; and William W. Truslow, MD, President-Elect, Greater Greensboro Society of Medicine.

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) voted for the temporary extension, but Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) voted against it. To see how Senators voted on HR 4961, go to: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=111&session=2&vote=00032.

After the President signed the bill, the AMA reported that discussions were underway in the House and Senate on the next steps that will be taken to address the Medicare payment crisis. Proposals are being circulated that would implement still another short-term patch to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, including proposals that would postpone cuts for 90 days, 7 months, or through the end of 2010.

Yesterday, AMA President J. James Rohack, MD, sent a letter to all members of the Senate, urging them to use the 31-day reprieve from the 2010 Medicare physician payment cut to delovop a legislative pathway toward a permanent repeal of the SGR formula. The NCMS and the AMA continue to press for the repeal rather than repeating the pattern of short-term remedies that serve to make future payment cuts more severe and increase the cost of permanent Medicare reform.

This week US Representatives Bob Etheridge (D-NC Dist. 2) and Walter B. Jones (R-Dist. 3) responded to letters sent by the NCMS urging them to support HR 3961, the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act.

Letter from Rep. Jones on SGR

Letter from Rep. Etheridge on SGR

Physicians are urged to keep up the pressure, especially in the Senate, for enacting legislation to permanently resolve the Medicare physician payment crisis. Use the AMA’s Grassroots Hotline: 1-800-833-6354 or go to the NCMS Legislative Action Center  to contact your Senators or Representatives.

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