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Congress Leaves Doctors Hanging On Medicare Payments

June 3, 2010

PHOENIX - Arizona doctors who treat Medicare patients have just taken a major pay cut for their services. The U.S. Senate adjourned and headed home for the Memorial Day break without taking action on a bill that, if passed, would prevent major cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. The so-called "doc fix" would have reversed a substantial cut in payments that took effect this week.

Dr. Len Kirschner, president of AARP-Arizona, says the impact could be severe in places like Sun City, where 80 percent of residents rely on Medicare.

"Right now, the Congress is on recess. Physicians scheduled to take a 21-percent reduction in their reimbursement as of first of June. And, the federal government has told the people processing claims to hold them."

Congress has not acted on the issue for nearly 13 years, and Kirschner believes it's time to scrap the current Medicare funding formula and develop a sustainable plan to reimburse doctors adequately. The disruption in Medicare payments, he says, will likely mean fewer medical options for seniors.

"Those physicians who are on the fence about whether they should take any new Medicare beneficiaries are likely to say 'I'm not taking any new ones.' And, those who are saying, 'You know, I think I'm ready to retire,' are thinking more strongly."

A new Medicare funding formula with an adequate payment is the only way Medicare beneficiaries can know the doctor treating them today is going to be willing to accept them tomorrow, he adds.

"You gotta fix it. Don't just put a temporary patch on it and kick the problem down the road for somebody else to work on."

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is notifying doctors it will hold payments for at least two weeks to give Congress time to act on the extension. The Senate is not due to take up the "doc fix" bill until at least Monday. The House already has passed a bill that would extend the higher doctor payments by 19 months.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ