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Congress Leaves Doctors Hanging On Medicare Payments

June 2, 2010

SIOUX FALLS, S. D. - The U.S. Senate adjourned and headed home for a Memorial Day break without taking action on the so-called "doc fix" bill, to prevent 21 percent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors set to take effect June 1.

Before House members left Washington, D. C., however, they passed a bill that would extend physician payments by 19 months. Sam Wilson, associate state director of AARP-South Dakota, says this is an issue that Congress has been putting off since 2002.

"This short-term fix, while it might get us another year or year-and-a-half down the road, doesn't provide any peace of mind to our members or providers that those Medicare payment rates will be sustainable in the future; or that Medicare beneficiaries can know the doctor treating them today is going to be willing to accept them tomorrow, because they're receiving adequate payment."

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is notifying doctors that it will hold payments for at least two weeks to give Congress time to act on the extension, although the Senate is not due to take up the bill until June 7 at the earliest. Wilson points out that South Dakota has a large number of seniors who depend on Medicare for their health insurance.

"We have over 135,000 Medicare beneficiaries in South Dakota who are watching Congress' actions on this issue closely – because if there is one thing particularly AARP members tell us, it's they don't want anything getting between them and the relationship they have with their doctor."

Wilson adds with South Dakota's rural nature, any disruption in Medicare payments could further limit the number of medical providers in the state.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD