Medicare Physician Payments: Time for Talk Is Over

For more than five years, Congress has been aware of the serious flaws in the way Medicare calculates physician payments. Right now, physicians receive no payment increase to account for inflation. As their expenses rise, their payments remain stagnant. Essentially, they are receiving less money for services now than they did five years ago.

Unless Congress acts when it returns in November, Medicare physician payments will be cut by more than 5 percent on January 1, 2007. This problem is not a new one, and it should come as no surprise to members of Congress. In fact, we have acted several times to block cuts in physician payments, giving Congress more time to fix the problem.

But that fix is nowhere in sight. House leadership has taken no real action on the issue. Last week, the Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee held its fifth hearing in 12 months on the issue. What we need is a plan, not another hearing.

Five years of flat funding already has hurt seniors' access to physicians in my home state of Tennessee. Because physician payments are not keeping up with practice expenses, many physicians now are turning away Medicare beneficiaries. Some have closed their practices altogether. Nationally, the problem threatens to destabilize the entire Medicare program.

It is long past time for Congress to fix the Medicare physician payment formula. When Congress returns in November, House leadership must treat this problem with action. Come January, the time for talk will be up.