Congress stalls cut to doctors’ Medicare formula
WASHINGTON — Congress agreed to a one-month delay in Medicare payment cuts to doctors yesterday, giving a short-term reprieve to a looming crisis over treatment of the nation’s senior citizens.
The House, in approving by voice vote the bill passed by the Senate earlier this month, postponed a 23 percent cut in doctors’ pay scheduled to take effect today. That gives lawmakers a month to develop a longer-term plan to overhaul a system that in recent years has bedeviled Congress, angered doctors, and complicated health care for some of the 46 million seniors and disabled in the program.
“This bill is a stopgap measure to make sure that seniors and military families can continue to see their doctors during December while we work on the solution for the next year,’’ said Representative Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.
Health care payment formulas for military service members and veterans are tied to Medicare.
The payment cuts are the result of a 1990s budget-balancing law that attempted, with little success, to keep Medicare spending in line. With medical groups estimating that as many as two-thirds of doctors would stop taking new Medicare patients if the cuts go into effect, Congress has had to step in periodically to stop the automatic cuts.
During the summer, when Congress missed the deadline for an extension, Medicare officials had to hold off processing claims to avoid paying the lower rates.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and the panel’s top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa, say they are working on a 12-month postponement that would give them time to devise a new system for paying doctors. It is estimated that repeal of the current budget formula would cost $300 billion over 10 years.