House votes to temporarily suspend Medicare physician payment cuts

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The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $636 billion defense appropriations bill, which included a provision to delay the 21.2 percent reduction in Medicare physician payment until March 2010.

The reduction was initially slated to commence on Jan. 1, 2010. The Senate is expected to take action on the bill by Friday.

The House has already passed the standalone bill, H.R. 3961 (Medicare Physician Payment Act), which will replace the Medicare physician payment formula. The Senate has yet to take similar action.

H.R. 3961, if passed in the Senate, will repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and provide a Medicare Economic Index update for 2010, instead of the proposed 21 percent Medicare physician payment cut.

Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., has introduced an amendment to delay implementation of a policy included in the 2010 Medicare physician payment rule that discontinues reimbursement for consult codes effective Jan. 1, 2010. The Specter amendment would delay the policy until 2011, and require the secretary of Health and Human Services to work with the CPT Editorial Panel to modify or establish new consultation service codes that will minimize coding errors.

The American Medical Association is calling on Congress to decide on a “permanent solution.…Ensuring continued access to physician care for America’s seniors is critically important, which is why Congress must fix the broken Medicare physician payment formula once and for all.”