By Julie Rovner
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health), Nov 14 - Physicians who see Medicare patients will likely experience another 4.4% cut in fees next January 1, on top of this year's 5.4% reduction, after the lame-duck Congress failed to act on the last likely measure before it adjourns for the year.
Tuesday night, House Republicans sought to add language addressing the "glitch" in the Medicare physician fee formula to a bill that will continue government spending at current levels until the new Congress convenes in early January. But Senate leaders from both parties rejected the proposal, and the House passed the spending bill without the physician-fee language Wednesday afternoon.
Physician groups--and Medicare officials--had lobbied hard in recent days to urge Congress to act to block the next round of cuts. "The election is over," proclaimed the headline of a display ad from the American Medical Association in Tuesday's Washington Post. "The Medicare mistake isn't."
Nearly 150 medical specialty and state medical associations wrote Congress late last week, warning that failure to act before the first of the year could seriously jeopardize patients' access to medical services.
"Medicare's foundation is crumbling," said the letter. "Physicians and other health professionals are the very foundation of the medical care system. Without them, patients will not be able to get hospital, nursing home and home health care services, or prescription drugs."
The California Medical Association, whose leaders traveled to the Capitol this week, came armed with a survey that found 78% of doctors in that state who treat Medicare patients said they would limit or drop their Medicare caseloads if the next round of cuts is imposed.
But Senators who blocked the physician-fee fix said they thought it was unfair to help only one class of healthcare providers. "A lot of us don't understand the logic of helping some at the expense of others," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., agreed, saying "we've got to do the package together." He had been urging adoption of a broader, $43 billion "giveback" package for several types of providers.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who will take over the committee in the new Congress from Baucus, agreed that Congress ought not to fix physicians' problems while rural health providers are still suffering.
Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who had hoped to address the issue this year, said he anticipates the new Congress will take up the issue of Medicare reimbursement early in January. "For whatever reason, at the leadership level it was decided to punt it until the first of the year," he said.
Last Updated: 2002-11-13 16:38:54 -0400 (Reuters Health)
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