Senate leaves physicians in limbo

    Doctors are scheduled to receive a 20 percent pay cut from Medicare this month…if Congress doesn’t come to the rescue.

    The US Senate went on break this week, leaving doctors in limbo, waiting to know whether planned payment cuts for Medicare services will go through. The cuts were scheduled to start today, but the federal government is holding up payments to doctors for ten days to see if Congress makes a move.

    Reduced payments to doctors were part of the Medicare funding fix enacted in 1997. But year after year, Congress has stepped in at the last minute to delay the cuts, giving doctors a reprieve. As concerns about the federal deficit mount, it’s not clear whether the Senate will rescue physicians this time.

    If these twenty percent reductions go through, doctors may ditch their private practices and join up with hospitals, says Alfred Bove. He’s a cardiology professor at Temple and a recent president of the American College of Cardiology.

    Bove: In the cardiology world we think 40-50 percent of cardiology practices have already done that within the last year seeing this problem coming down the line. Because obviously the cuts will prevent an office from balancing their budget.

    Bove says with outpatient offices closing, patients may find it harder to locate a physician, and they may incur higher costs by paying hospital fees.

    Richard Stefanacci is a health policy professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He says doctors fear Congress will not delay the cuts forever, and they’re starting to reject patients who carry Medicare insurance.

    Stefanacci:
    They’re tired of the roller coaster ride, and because of that roller coaster ride and uncertainty that to be safe, they’re going to be preemptive and cut back on Medicare patients so they can safeguard if eventually these cuts do go through.

    Stefanacci says patients may find it more difficult to find a doctor who accepts Medicare.

    If the payment cuts are delayed, Medicare will incur billions of dollars in deficit spending.

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