Senate abandons effort to block Medicare physician fee cut

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Senate abandons effort to block Medicare physician fee cut

posted 02.26.10

The U.S. Senate has failed to avert a 21.2 percent reduction in physician payments in the Medicare program, meaning the cut will go into effect on Monday, March 1.

“Congress has had more than a year to repeal the flawed Medicare payment formula and avert a 21.2 percent cut to physicians, and they have failed at every opportunity to do so,” said TAFP President Kaparaboyna Ashok Kumar, M.D. “This crisis is Congress’ creation and the politics leading to this failure are maddeningly disingenuous.”

In December, Congress passed a measure delaying the cut for two months, and since then, attempts to either permanently fix the payment formula or freeze payments at current levels past the March 1 deadline have faltered.

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to provide a one-month extension of the current Medicare physician payment rate. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., attempted several times to pass the legislation by unanimous consent, but Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., objected, arguing that the expenditure was not offset by commensurate reductions in spending elsewhere.

Senators could not overturn the objection on Friday morning, so they adjourned and went home early. They are not scheduled to return for a vote in the chamber until Tuesday, March 2, after the deadline will have passed.

“This inaction—in the face of virtually universal calls by the medical community and advocates for Medicare beneficiaries—has put elderly and disabled patients at risk of losing access to care and imposed potentially devastating fiscal hardship on physicians,” said AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., in a statement released Friday, Feb. 26. “America’s family physicians are already straining to make ends meet with Medicare payment rates that have fallen behind inflation. Now they are in a situation in which they must decide between seeing Medicare beneficiaries or putting their medical practices at serious financial risk.”

CMS has announced it will ask physicians to hold all Medicare claims for 10 business days beginning March 1 in hopes that Congress will act to avert the cuts, and make the payment fix retroactive to March 1. Stay tuned to for up-to-date coverage.

To read a statement by TAFP President Kaparaboyna Ashok Kumar, M.D., click here.

To read a statement by AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., click here.