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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Medicare Vote This Week

Robert Pear of the New York Times writes about the Medicare pay cuts and the impact the failure to enact a new Medicare funding bill has had on doctors.  He reports,

Congress returns to work this week with Medicare high on the agenda and Senate Republicans under pressure after a barrage of radio and television advertisements blamed them for a 10.6 percent cut in payments to doctors who care for millions of older Americans. The advertisements, by the American Medical Association, urge Senate Republicans to reverse themselves and help pass legislation to fend off the cut.

How to pay doctors through the federal health insurance program is an issue that lawmakers are forced to confront every year because of what is widely agreed to be an outdated reimbursement formula. But the dispute, which showcases the continued potency of health care issues, has reached a new level of urgency this year. Some doctors are reassessing their participation in the program and powerful interests on all sides are in a lobbying frenzy.

Just before the Fourth of July recess, the House passed a bill to prevent the Medicare pay cut by a vote of 355 to 59. In the Senate, Republicans blocked efforts to take up the bill, so the cut took effect on July 1, as required by the formula. But the Bush administration has delayed processing of new claims to give Congress time to come up with a compromise.  Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he planned to force another vote this week, and Democrats pressed their case over the weekend in their national radio address.

Democrats need just one more vote to pass the bill, and they hope to win over Republicans who were hit by advertisements over the recess. . . .   But President Bush has vowed to veto the bill, so the fight — and the uncertainty — could continue for weeks.   Mr. Bush and many Republicans oppose the bill because it would finance an increase in doctors’ fees by reducing federal payments to insurance companies that offer private Medicare Advantage plans as an alternative to the traditional government-run Medicare program. . . .

As the maneuvering goes on in Washington, doctors around the country have begun to reassess their participation in Medicare.  Dr. David D. Richardson, 40, an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles County, closed his practice last week to all but emergency patients and those needing surgery.  “I love practicing medicine,” Dr. Richardson said, “but I would lose more money by keeping my office open than by pulling it back to a skeleton crew. Just like a physician in the emergency room, I try to reduce the hemorrhaging.”

In Topeka, Kan., Dr. Kent E. Palmberg, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the Stormont-Vail HealthCare system, said its 70 primary care doctors were “no longer accepting new Medicare patients as of July 1 because of the draconian cut in Medicare reimbursement.”

Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, a family doctor in Pawleys Island, S.C., said he decided last week that he would not take new Medicare patients “until further notice.”  “This is not what we enjoy doing,” says a notice in his waiting room. “It is what we must do to maintain financial viability.” . . .

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