July 1 is only two weeks away, and Congress has not taken final action to stop the cuts in Medicare fees paid to physicians that are scheduled to take effect then. A solution proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) failed to make its way through the Senate procedures late last week, primarily because of President Bush's threat to veto any legislation that would cut Medicare Advantage plans.
As this issue of Action was being prepared, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders were working on a compromise bill. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) drafted a bill similar to the Baucus measure but it does not include cutting the Medicare Advantage plans. Both bills include a 0.5-percent increase for the rest of the year and a 1.1-percent increase in 2009, a 2-percent bonus for e-prescribing in 2009 and 2010, and a 2-percent bonus for reporting Physician Quality Reporting Initiative measures in 2009 and 2010.
"There is simply not enough time to go through the process of a veto, a failed override, and the passage of a compromise that the president can sign by July 1," Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said in a letter to Texas Medical Association Executive Vice President Louis J. Goodman, PhD.
"We would be very surprised if the Democratic leadership did not work to reach a resolution expeditiously," added Texas Sen. John Cornyn. The fact that the Baucus bill did proceed "saves precious time and forces Senator Baucus to reach a compromise with Senator Grassley on a bill that the president will sign into law," he said.
"Watching Congress work its will is, more often than not, frustrating and mind-boggling when you are faced daily with the challenges of caring for your patients. We will continue to keep you apprised of progress as it occurs and will ask for your action only when it's critical to moving the bill along," said TMA President Josie Williams, MD.
Meanwhile, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has just issued a report projecting a 5.4-percent fee cut in 2009 in addition to the 10.6-percent reduction scheduled for July 1.
Even if Congress passes a stopgap measure, Medicare needs permanent repairs. TMA has proposed the Texas Medicare Manifesto to do just that.
Action , June 16, 2008