Congress Votes to Delay Medicare Pay Cut Again

Congress voted to delay the looming cut in Medicare pay for physicians, keeping reimbursements at current rates through Dec. 31. The measure would postpone a 23% cut in reimbursements that was due to go into effect on Wednesday.

Congress voted Monday to delay the looming cut in Medicare pay for physicians, keeping reimbursements at the current levels through Dec. 31.

The U.S. House of Representatives agreed to postpone a 23% cut in reimbursements that were due to go into effect on Dec. 1. (An additional 6.5% cut is scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1.) A similar measure was approved by the Senate on Nov. 18. The legislation now moves on to President Obama for his signature. It has been estimated that the one-month postponement will cost $1 billion, whch is expected to be offset by savings from cuts in Medicare pay for certain therapy services.

Physicians groups have been aggressively lobbying Congress to stop the pay cuts from taking effect. “Without action to stop the cuts, Congress will create a Medicare meltdown with access to care threatened for seniors and the baby boomers who will begin entering Medicare in January,” American Medical Association President Cecil B. Wilson, MD, said in a statement. “Ultimately, a permanent solution must be passed to fix this broken system, but Congress must first stop the 30 percent payment cuts threatening seniors’ access to care now.”

The steep cuts are the result of a 1997 law that required that Medicare rates be trimmed annually to keep healthcare costs in check. But the pay cuts have been delayed 10 times over the last eight years -- with lawmakers voting to postpone the cuts four times this year alone.

A 2010 survey by the Medical Group Management Association found that more than 67% of medical practices said they were likely to limit the number of new Medicare patients they accept -- and half said they would refuse Medicare patients altogether -- unless Congress halts the Medicare reimbursement cuts.

Earlier this month, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a group of medical school leaders that the Obama administration backed a 13-month extension of the Medicare pay cuts, saying the president considers the issue "one of our top priorities."