CMS Extends Freeze on Medicare Claims Amid Debate on ‘Doc Fix’
On Monday, CMS announced that it will extend a freeze on processing physicians' Medicare claims through the end of Thursday, CongressDaily reports (McCarthy, CongressDaily, 6/14).
According to The Hill's "Blog Briefing Room," the move is intended to give the Senate more time to approve a delay to a scheduled 21% cut to Medicare physician payment rates. Work on the extenders bill in the Senate has stalled because of lawmakers' opposition to its cost (Lillis, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 6/14). The "doc fix," which would delay the scheduled payment cut through 2011, is part of the so-called "extenders" bill (HR 4213) that the House approved on May 28.
As the Senate already had adjourned for the Memorial Day recess, the payment cut took effect on June 1, as scheduled. However, CMS in late May instructed Medicare contractors to delay processing physicians' claims until June 15. Without Senate action, physicians on Tuesday would have begun to receive reduced Medicare reimbursements (California Healthline, 6/1).
CMS said that extending the processing freeze would minimize the need to reprocess claims should Congress approve a retroactive update to Medicare physician payment rates. In an e-mail to Medicare contractors and others affected by the processing freeze, CMS also said that the extension "should minimize the provider and beneficiary burdens and costs associated with reprocessing claims" (CongressDaily, 6/14).
Reid Launches Voting Process on Bill
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a motion for cloture on the extenders bill, a move that suggests that he has secured enough votes in the chamber for passage, Roll Call reports. The Senate likely will vote on the motion to end debate on the bill on Wednesday, setting it up for a possible final floor vote by the end of the week (Brady , Roll Call, 6/14).
A spokesperson for Reid said that Senate Democrats are confident the bill will be approved by week's end ("Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 6/14).
Reid Rejects GOP's 30-Day Extension Plan
According to Roll Call, Reid filed the cloture motion soon after he rejected a GOP alternative to the extenders legislation (Brady , Roll Call, 6/14).
An alternative proposal authored by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would have extended Medicaid funding assistance for states and delayed the scheduled cut to physicians' Medicare payment rates for 30 days.
Reid said that the GOP's 30-day fix "doesn't solve the problems" that the extenders legislation is attempting to resolve (Brady , Roll Call, 6/14).
Physician and Labor Group Continue To Pressure Senate
A pair of influential lobbying groups has increased pressure on lawmakers to pass the extenders bill.
On Monday, the American Medical Association announced new lobbying efforts to pressure lawmakers to delay the scheduled 21% cut to physicians' Medicare payment rates through 2011. This week, AMA members plan to send white lab coats with written and signed petitions to lawmakersÂ (Ethridge, CQ Today, 6/14).Meanwhile, Bill Samuel, director of government affairs at AFL-CIO, in an e-mail urged Senate lawmakers to restore subsidies to help laid-off workers purchase health coverage through COBRA, which the House omitted from the extenders bill (Bogardus, The Hill, 6/14). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.