Medicare Physician Payment Cuts Postponed until April 1

On March 2, the Senate voted 78-19 to pass H.R. 4691, the “Temporary Extension Act of 2010,” which extends a number of expiring programs for 30 days, including current Medicare physician payment rates, which would once again postpone the 21% cut that was scheduled to take effect this year.

 

H.R. 4691 passed the House on Feb. 25 but faced continued opposition on the Senate floor by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who objected to the legislation being considered as an emergency measure that would not require budgetary offsets. The President signed the legislation Tuesday evening and as a result, the payment cut that took effect on March 1 has been postponed until April 1.

 

Discussions are underway in the House and Senate about the next steps that will be taken to address the Medicare payment crisis. On Monday, the Senate began debate of a second “jobs” bill which includes longer extensions for COBRA and unemployment insurance (both through the end of 2010), the increase in federal Medicaid assistance to states (through July 2011) and a seven-month extension of the freeze in Medicare physician payments through September 2010 . The proposal does not designate new money for the physician payments, instead borrowing additional money from future projected payments, which means a cut in excess of 21% on Oct. 1, 2010 without any further congressional action. 

 

Other proposals circulating in Congress also would implement short-term solutions to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, and would postpone cuts for 90 days, 7 months, or through the end of 2010.

 

ACEP, along with the AMA, AARP and a host of physician specialty organizations, continues to urge Congress to permanently fix the flawed reimbursement system.

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