Medicare cuts pushed to April 1

The Senate voted Tuesday night to postpone the 21 percent Medicare physician payment cuts until April 1, 2010.

The Senate voted 78-19 in favor of H.R. 4691, the "Temporary Extension Act of 2010," which includes provisions to extend 2009 Medicare physician payment rates through the end of the month.

"While we are encouraged that the Senate put patients over politics by postponing the fee cut for 30 days, we need a permanent repeal of the SGR. Continuing the pattern of short-term patches makes future payment cuts more severe and increases the cost of permanent Medicare payment reform," said representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association.

The legislation also extended the therapy cap exception process through until March 31, 2010.

 "The Senate should use this time to permanently repeal the flawed Medicare physician payment formula that puts access to care for seniors and military families at risk," advised J. James Rohack, MD, president, American Medical Association, in a statement.
H.R. 4691 was passed by the House on Feb. 25, but was stalled on the Senate floor last week. According to officials, discussions are underway in the House and Senate on the next steps that will be taken to address the Medicare payment crisis.

The Senate is currently debating H.R. 4213 the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010. This legislation extends the freeze on Medicare physician payments until Sept. 30, 2010. It also provides an extension to the therapy cap exception process through Dec. 31, 2010 and an extension of the geographic practice cost index floor through Dec. 31, 2010.

 If approved by the Senate, H.R. 4213  would have to be approved by the House before transmittal to the president.

"Physicians are outraged by the Senate's failure to act before the March 1, deadline, as their patients and practices are hurt by the continued instability in the Medicare system, Rohack said. "This vicious cycle of short-term delays that increase the size of the cut and the cost of reform for American taxpayers must come to an end. The U.S. House has already passed legislation that will permanently repeal the broken payment formula and replace it with one that better reflects the increasing cost of patient care. Now the Senate must act," he said.
Rohack said AMA physicians were in Washington on Wednesday to meet directly with their senators to urge them to act now on permanent reform.