Reductions in Medicare Payments to Doctors to Be Halted

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pushing a health bill to halt scheduled reductions in Medicare payments to physicians.

The measure, introduced last week by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), would end the cuts and set Medicare payment rates at current levels. Doing so would allow Democrats to maintain the American Medical Assn.'s support for an overhaul without having to absorb the cost of higher doctor payments in the final healthcare bill.

The current formula imposes cuts to doctors when Medicare spending outpaces growth in the gross domestic product. Each year, Congress intervenes to ignore the cuts -- it sometimes has even increased payment rates -- at the behest of the AMA and other physician groups. The result has been an accumulation of rate cuts totaling 21% next year , The Los Angeles Times reports .

It was also reported, n ow the bill's supporters are making a play to lock in the American Medical Association, the organization that says it represents 250,000 doctors and medical students in every state and congressional district. The principal enticement, a $247 billion measure making its way to the Senate floor, aims to wipe out a scheduled 21 percent rate cut for doctors treating Medicare patients and replace it with a permanent, predictable system for future fee increases.

The AMA, firmly in favor of higher pay for doctors, began airing ads last week saying the increase would "protect seniors' access to quality care." In case lawmakers need any inducement to act, a late 2008 study by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress, found that nearly 30 percent of Medicare patients looking for a new primary care doctor had trouble finding one.

"We continue to press for significant medical liability reform because we know that is a very important contributor to unnecessary health care costs," Dr. J. James Rohack, president of the AMA, said in an interview in which he declined repeatedly to say whether the organization had been asked to back off.

Higher payments to doctors and curbs on medical malpractice awards "in my mind are separate issues. I can't speak for how other people are putting this whole thing together," he added , The Associated Press reports

It was also reported, p roponents of revamping the nation's health care system will hold phone-bank events in 50 states today. Here in the nation's capital, a coalition of more than 100 liberal interest groups will convene its weekly meeting, with health care atop the agenda. Congressional leaders will seek to meld five health care bills into two for House and Senate votes.

Beyond the topic, all the public and private meetings will have one other thing in common: White House involvement.

President Obama will speak from New York City by video hookup to hundreds of small gatherings sponsored by Organizing for America, a spinoff of his 2008 campaign. Top White House aides will attend the regular strategy session of the Common Purpose Project, a coalition headed by former Obama campaign officials to advance his agenda. And when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gather committee leaders to write the legislation, Obama's chief of staff and other aides are at the table , USA Today reports.

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