Physicians will see a 29.5 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements come Jan. 1 unless Congress acts, Medicare officials said.
The new figure represents an increase over the 28.3 percent "cliff" the Obama administration had relied on when crafting its proposed 2012 budget. That budget, unveiled last month, sets aside $62 billion to keep Medicare payments flat for the next two years; the new estimate means doing so could in fact cost a billion dollars more.
Likewise, the 10-year cost of repealing the payment formula is likely to significantly surpass the $369.8 billion estimated in the president's budget.
Doctors have been clamoring for years for Congress to repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate formula and its annual reimbursement cuts, but the ever-growing cost of doing so makes it increasingly unlikely Democrats and Republicans will agree on how to pay for it — or whether to add its cost to the ballooning national deficit.
The new figures are included in a letter that surfaced Thursday from Center for Medicare Management Director Jonathan Blum to Glenn Hackbarth, the chairman of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.