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Monday, December 14, 2009

LAWMAKERS LOOK TO AVERT MEDICARE CUTS

As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) searches for the magic 60 votes he needs to pass a health system reform bill, members of Congress and leaders of organized medicine are searching for a way to put off the 21.2-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments scheduled for Jan. 1. Senator Reid’s latest compromise does away with the controversial public option for health insurance. In its place is a plan that includes allowing individuals age 55-64 to buy in to Medicare. Given the many problems with the current Medicare program, the American Medical Association and others are encouraging physicians to tell their senators they oppose the Medicare buy-in. The latest move certainly makes it no easier for TMA to change our position: Without significant changes, we cannot support the Senate bill. We are examining details of a possible short-term patch of 30 to 60 days to freeze physicians’ Medicare payments at current rates. The measure likely would be tacked on to a budget bill that must pass by the end of the year, such as defense appropriations. The idea is to give lawmakers more time to pass a permanent replacement for Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Another one- or two-year patch that digs an even larger budget hole at the end is not acceptable. TMA’s consistent message to Congress is that we need a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula.

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