White House again postpones doc cuts under Medicare

Doctors treating Medicare patients won’t be hit with a steep pay cut Tuesday, as previously scheduled, the Obama administration announced Monday.

Instead, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is holding claims until Friday, anticipating that Congress will intervene this week.

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The move is the latest in a string of efforts to prevent Medicare doctors from receiving a 21 percent pay cut, which technically went into effect June 1. CMS had initially delayed the cut until June 15.

Last month, the House passed legislation to provide a longer-term fix through 2011. But a similar bill has been stalled in the Senate, where Republican leaders have objected to the absence of offsets to cover the $23 billion cost.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that Democrats hope to pass the bill — a provision of a larger tax extenders package — by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the doctors’ lobby has stepped up its push for a permanent “doc fix” bill. The scheduled pay decrease — the result of a 13-year-old formula for updating doctors’ Medicare payments — would cause many physicians to stop treating seniors altogether, doctors’ groups have warned.

Members of the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest doctors’ lobby, began sending their lab coats to Capitol Hill this week “as a symbolic, visible reminder” that congressional action is needed to prevent the cut, AMA President J. James Rohack said Sunday in a statement.

President Barack Obama used his weekly address Saturday to urge Senate Republicans to support the bill — a necessary stop-gap, he said, until policymakers can pass a more permanent solution. 

“I’m absolutely willing to take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path,” he said. “But I’m not willing to do that by punishing hard-working physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare.”

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