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White House, AMA Call for Action on Scheduled Cuts to Medicare Pay

On Monday, the Obama administration expressed support for legislation that would postpone for 13 months scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements for physicians, CQ HealthBeat reports.

Currently, the federal government is scheduled to reduce physicians' Medicare payments by 23% at the end of November. On Jan. 1, 2011, an additional 1% cut is scheduled to go into effect.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration is committed to working with physicians to avert the cuts. She said the cuts could push physicians out of Medicare and jeopardize care for seniors.

AMA Weighs In

The American Medical Association previously reported that one in five physicians were limiting the number of Medicare patients they treat because of reimbursement concerns, according to CQ HealthBeat (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 11/8).

AMA also is urging Congress to pass the legislation and to include a 1% increase in physician reimbursements, according to AMA President Cecil Wilson.

The group's endorsement of a 13-month fix signals a shift for the organization, which typically lobbies Congress to establish a permanent solution to the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula, National Journal Daily reports.

Wilson said, "The likelihood of getting (a permanent fix) in the prior weeks to Thanksgiving is not great," adding, "What we hope, and expect, is that [lawmakers] will find it constructive that we are coming to the table."

AMA has begun running advertisements pressuring lawmakers to delay the cuts. Meanwhile, the group recently released a new online poll finding that U.S. residents are concerned about physicians' Medicare reimbursement rates (McCarthy, National Journal Daily, 11/8).

Prospects for Passage

Lawmakers have not yet proposed offsets for the 13-month fix, which is expected to cost an estimated $17 billion to $20 billion, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 11/8). According to Senate aides, the lawmakers' hesitation on offsets makes passage of the 13-month fix by Thanksgiving unlikely.

Congress reconvenes on Nov. 15 for one week prior to the Thanksgiving recess. Lawmakers then return on Nov. 29 -- two days before the Medicare cuts are scheduled to take place -- for the session's final weeks.

Julius Hobson -- senior policy adviser with Polsinelli Shughart -- said lawmakers might opt for a one-month fix for reimbursements, which would buy them time to consider the 13-month patch during the final weeks of the legislative calendar before Christmas (Ethridge, CQ Today, 11/8).

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