KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Doctors, Pelosi Pan Senate-Passed ‘Doc Fix’ Plan

USA Today: Doctors are limiting the number of new Medicare patients they are seeing, concerned about reimbursements pay from the federal program. "Recent surveys by national and state medical societies have found more doctors limiting Medicare patients, partly because Congress has failed to stop an automatic 21% cut in payments that doctors already regard as too low. The cut went into effect Friday, even as the Senate approved a six-month reprieve." The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13 percent of doctors that responded to a survey didn't participate in Medicare last year and the AMA says 17 percent of those they surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say that 97 percent of doctors accept Medicare. "The AARP, the nation's largest consumer group representing seniors, is taking notice. Some U.S. areas already face a shortage of primary care physicians. Policy director John Rother says the trend away from Medicare threatens to make it worse" (Wolf, 6/21).

The New York Times: The $6.4 billion bill passed by the Senate "would reverse a 21 percent cut in physician payments that was to kick in Friday, raising the possibility that some doctors might begin to turn away those covered by Medicare. The legislation, known on Capitol Hill as the doc fix, was approved without a roll-call vote after leaders of both parties agreed to pull it out of a stalled package of tax changes and safety-net spending." The cost was offset by changes in billing regulations in Medicare, antifraud provisions and pension rule changes that soothed the concerns of Republicans wary of debt spending (Hulse, 6/18).

The Hill: The $6.5 billion fix, which still must be approved by the House, came too late to avoid the criticisms of doctors. "The American Medical Association was irate. 'This is no way to run a major health coverage program – already the instability caused by repeated short-term delays is taking its toll,' American Medical Association President Cecil Wilson said in a sharply worded statement. 'About one in five physicians say they have already been forced to limit the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Nearly one-third of primary care physicians have already been forced to take that action. The top two reasons physicians gave for these actions were the ongoing threat of future cuts and the fact that Medicare payment rates were already too low'" (Pecquet, 6/19).

Roll Call: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also blasted the bill. "'I see no reason to pass this inadequate bill until we see jobs legislation coming out of the Senate,' Pelosi said in a Friday night statement meant to press the Senate to act on a broader package extending expired middle-class tax breaks and jobless benefits. That 'extenders' package - which includes a longer extension [of the higher pay levels for physicians] - has languished in the Senate for two weeks" (Hunter, 6/18).

The (Prescott, Ariz.) Daily Courier: Doctors in that community are restricting the number of Medicare patients they see to save their practices from financial hardship. "The federal government requires doctors who treat Medicare patients to follow stringent paperwork guidelines, including logging the hours spent with these patients. Doctors fear that the Obama health care plan will increase the amount of paperwork doctors have to fill out, which puts time constraints on patient visits. … If millions more Americans go on a federal-government operated health plan and the feds continue to decrease doctors' reimbursements, more physicians say they will move toward accepting increasing numbers of privately insured patients and not treat those on Medicare" (Cook, 6/20). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.