Senate Whittles Doc Pay Fix from 19 to 6 Months

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The Senate is expected to vote soon on a revised package of tax provisions and health spending that would grant physicians a 2.2% pay increase through November only, averting the 21.2% pay reduction that went into effect June 1.

When it became clear that an earlier modified $140 billion version of the House package could not get enough support to pass through the Senate, the latest bill was crafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) and colleagues. All Republicans and 10 Democrats lined up against the costlier package.

The crisis began when Congress allowed a June 1 deadline to pass, at which point the SGR-mandated physician pay cut was scheduled to go into effect. CMS told providers to hold onto bills in anticipation of a quick fix, which still has not materialized. CMS cannot hold claims beyond today, prompting an angry statement from Cecil B. Wilson, MD, president, American Medical Association.

“Today is the last day that Medicare can hold claims, and it is now 17 days past the Senate’s deadline to stop the cut,” Wilson states. “Tomorrow, physicians will start seeing a 21% cut in Medicare payments that will hurt seniors’ health care as physicians are forced to make difficult practice changes to keep their practice doors open.

Increasingly frustrated by the lack of a long-term solution, the American Medical Association voted at its annual meeting in Chicago to formulate legislation [ http://that would allow patients and physicians to freely contract for payments that differ from the Medicare schedule, while allowing patients to use their Medicare benefits.