Senate takes recess, leaving angry doctors without Medicare payment fix

The Senate has angered physician groups for adjourning without voting to prevent a scheduled cut in Medicare payments.

“The Senate has turned its back on seniors, and America’s physicians are outraged that Congress has deserted patients by failing to address this year’s Medicare cut before the June 1 deadline,” James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement late Thursday.

The Senate adjourned Thursday evening without voting to prevent a 21.3 percent cut to the payments doctors receive under Medicare. The payment is scheduled to take effect June 1.

The House may vote Friday on legislation freezing the scheduled cuts and giving physicians a 2.2 percent pay bump for the rest of this year and an extra 1 percent bump next year. But the bill cannot become law until the Senate acts to send the measure to President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate Khashoggi prompts Trump to reconsider human rights in foreign policy MORE.

The “doc fix” is included in a package of tax credits and an extension of unemployment benefits. It stalled in the Senate over concerns the bill would add to the deficit.

Doctors won’t see an immediate cut. The federal agency that oversees Medicare is asking its contractors to postpone for 10 days processing claims for services provided on or after June 1. The move is intended to give lawmakers time to retroactively freeze the rate cut.

Rohack blasted the Senate for not taking action to freeze the rate for a long period of time. This is the fourth time this year that Congress has taken up a temporary patch to the scheduled cuts, and the second time that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has had to postpone payments because lawmakers failed to act in time to prevent the cuts.

“Senators are more interested in heading home for the holiday than in preventing a Medicare meltdown for seniors,” Rohack said in his statement. “The 21 percent Medicare physician payment cut has been looming all year, and yet all Congress has managed to do is repeated short-term delays. This is complete mismanagement of a health care program that America’s seniors and the disabled rely on."

If the House and Senate approve the House language, lawmakers would have to tackle the problem all over again in 2012, at which point physicians would face a 33 percent cut.