Doctors Issue Warnings About Reduced Access As Congressional Inaction Cuts Medicare Pay

A political deadlock in the Senate has triggered a 21 percent Medicare pay reduction to doctors who say they may have to limit care for older Americans unless the reduction is reversed. The Associated Press reports that "the Obama administration directed Medicare billing contractors to hold off processing claims for 10 business days" in the hopes that senators will break the deadlock. "Medicare normally takes 14 days to pay doctors, so there would be no reduction in reimbursement if lawmakers move quickly," the AP reports. Groups like the American Medical Association have become highly critical of lawmakers for what they term "playing games" with people's care. "Funding to temporarily stave off the cuts was part of a bill passed last week by the House. But the Senate failed to act on the one-month fix." (See today's related Daily Report coverage regarding Senate action.) Congress routinely passes bills aimed at staving off the payment reduction since lawmakers directed such a move in a deficit reduction bill in the 1990s (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/1).

The Palm Beach Post: Doctors in South Florida continued to treat patients normally on Monday but said that they would have to stop if the Medicare cuts are not reversed. "At Boca Raton Community Hospital, cardiologist Dr. Stephen Babic said doctors have planned a protest of the Medicare cuts for Wednesday. 'Doctors are working today and they don't know what they are going to be paid,' Babic said. 'All the doctors here are saying if you cut us 20 percent we can't make payroll, we can't pay our overhead, we can't keep the doors open.'" Doctors in South Florida are laying workers off because of lower reimbursement rates from Medicare and what they say are fewer patients coming to see them. In addition, some said "cardiologists were especially hard hit because in January, Medicare cut what it paid for certain diagnostic tests like echocardiograms" (Singer, 3/1).

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