On June 18, 2010, the U.S. Senate passed yet another short-term funding of physician’s fees for Medicare. The earlier proposed bill, which would have lasted 6 months and included a 2.2% increase for doctors, was denied by a GOP filibuster. The Republicans complained that the bill’s benefits were not paid for, and refused to allow the national debt to be increased. This leaves health care providers yet again in a lurch.
Had the temporary measure not been passed, doctors would have suffered a 21% reduction in fees. This “Doc Fix” (as its come to be called,) is a stay of execution for both doctors and patients, but only a temporary one. As it is, the reduction in pay was already technically in place, but claims had been paid at the “full” rate in anticipation of a (another) reprieve from Senate.
One might think that the problem is solved. Think again. The CMS has directed its providers to start implementing the 21% pay cut anyway. They have been holding claims filed since June 1 in anticipation of a retroactive bill. Now the stance is that this latest bill passed by Senate has yet to be approved by the House and signed by the President, so at this time the physicians’ pay IS cut by 21% for all claims from June 1, 2010 until something else becomes law. It’s likely a temporary situation, but the fact remains that these health care providers are simply “out the money”. It’s too late for them to go back and ask the patient to pay the difference. The doctors will just have to eat it. Such results make it all the more likely that many doctors will begin informing patients that they must find another provider, as they can no longer afford to accept Medicare.
We have endured this saga month after month after month. Even the AMA spoke up on the matter. At what point will the government decide that the nation’s healthcare providers deserve to be paid, and paid fairly? Millions of seniors and their doctors are standing on a windy ledge every month, afraid that this will be the month that Congress just doesn’t pay them at all.
Perhaps it is time to put pressure to bear on our legislators, remind them that this is OUR money, and that our health and well-being is not something that we want subject to budgetary cuts.