KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Doctors Urge Congress To Delay Pay Cuts – Again

Doctors are renewing their campaign to get Congress to block a 23 percent cut to Medicare reimbursements that would begin Dec. 1, the Los Angeles Times reports. The cuts - part of a 1997 law designed to control Medicare costs - are a lingering issue that Congress and doctors typically address at least once a year. "But heading off the cuts has become an increasingly tortuous ritual on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers from both parties regularly scrambling to find a way to delay them, often at the last minute. When deferred, the cuts accumulate, which is why the pending reduction is so large." The last move to block the cuts was a six-month delay Congress enacted in June (Levey, 11/9).

But, lawmakers aren't likely to reach consensus on any permanent resolution to the problem before that deadline, Modern Healthcare reports. "Bowing to the political reality that a repeal of the current Medicare physician-payment formula is unlikely during the upcoming 'lame duck' congressional session, American Medical Association President Cecil Wilson called on current members of Congress to pass another temporary block on scheduled pay cuts to be followed by a permanent fix to be enacted by the new Congress when it convenes next year." The AMA is asking for a 13-month reprieve instead (Robeznieks, 11/8).

The San Diego Union-Tribune: "The AMA's call for a 13-month extension of the existing payment schedule includes a 1 percent increase in payments. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the proposal at $15.4 billion. ... "Whether Republicans will vote for another extension remains unclear, after campaigning during the November election for budget cuts to reduce the federal deficit" (LaVelle, 11/8).

The Hill's Healthwatch blog: If Congress doesn't pass the temporary fix, it would prove disastrous for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries, the doctors say. The AMA "is warning that a failure to prevent the cut would be 'a catastrophe for seniors' because many doctors would stop seeing Medicare patients altogether." Wilson told reporters, "This is not about doctors … It's about access to care for senior citizens" (Lillis, 11/8).

Reuters: "The physician's group did an online survey of 1,000 Americans aged 18 and older and found 94 percent of them said they are concerned about the cuts to doctors who treat elderly patients. "The group released the findings at a meeting in San Diego to kick off a new advertising and lobbying push to convince lawmakers to block payment cuts ... before they recess for the Thanksgiving holiday later this month" (11/8).

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