KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama, GOP Spar on Medicare ‘Doc Fix,’ While AMA Expresses Displeasure

News outlets are reporting on the politics surrounding Medicare payments to physicians.

The Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama Saturday accused Senate Republicans of standing in the way of important legislation that would block deep pay cuts for doctors who care for Medicare patients. Mr. Obama said the majority of the U.S. Congress is ready and willing to prevent a pay cut of 21%. But he used his weekly radio and Internet address to express concern that some Republicans are seeking to block a vote on the issue. If they do, doctors could see the cut in their Medicare payments this week, the president said" (Randall, 6/12).

The Washington Post: "The Senate had until June 1 to avert the cuts. It is not expected to vote by Tuesday, when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' temporary hold on Medicare claims expires. Some members of the American Medical Association signed white lab coats instead of a petition to voice their displeasure on Sunday at the group's annual meetings in Chicago. The coats will be delivered to lawmakers in Washington on Friday, a spokeswoman said. 'The Senate's failure to act before June 1 made the 21 percent cut the law of the land,' AMA President J. James Rohack said in a statement. 'Physicians will start seeing a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments this week that will hurt seniors' health care as physicians are forced to make practice changes to keep their practice doors open'" (O'Keefe, 6/14).

The New York Times: "The pay cut is the result of a decade-old formula set up by Congress to slow the growth of Medicare, the government-run health insurance system for older Americans. Under the formula, reimbursement rates for Medicare would have been trimmed on a yearly basis. But every year since 2003, Congress has deferred the cuts, with backing from Democrats and Republicans" (Stolberg, 6/12).

The Associated Press: "If GOP senators don't allow the stalled proposal to pass, some doctors will stop treating Medicare recipients, Obama said. The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said his party wants to avoid reducing physicians' fees, but do it without adding to the deficit - meaning spending cuts elsewhere" (Babington, 6/12).

Politics Daily: "In the future, the president said, he wants to 'take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path. But I'm not willing to do that by punishing hard-working physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare. That's just wrong'" (Diemer, 6/12)

The Hill: "The Senate is set on Monday to take up the broader package that includes the Medicare payment fix" (Brush, 6/12).

Reuters: "Like much else related to healthcare, the vote is becoming a proxy for Republican anger over the sweeping health overhaul passed in March despite their fierce resistance. ... A spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell stressed that a vote was imminent and said Republicans backed an alternative proposal, 'that reduces the deficit rather than adding to it as the bill endorsed by the president would do'" (Zengerle, 6/12).

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that doctors "in 14 California counties have been poised to receive a boost in what Medicare pays for their services under legislation being debated on Capitol Hill to expand tax breaks and federal aid to unemployed workers. But the proposed raise, which would correct a perceived imbalance in the way the federal insurance program reimburses physicians in some metropolitan areas, is emerging as a new target for Republican lawmakers fighting the legislation."

"Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is trying to strip out the $400-million raise, contending that California is getting a special deal. 'We need a doc fix for the entire country, not a partial fix for one state,' Coburn said ... The low reimbursement rates are forcing doctors in some urban areas to stop seeing new Medicare patients, said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), who has been pushing for a change in the Medicare formula for more than a decade."

"The root of this debate is one of the most arcane parts of the 45-year-old Medicare program: the complex system the federal government uses to calculate what it pays physicians depending on where they work" (Levey, 6/12).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.