Senate Betrays Medicare Patients, Physicians

A 10.6-percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians took effect July 1 because Congress failed to stop the reductions. The effort to block the cuts foundered because a bill that would have done that - and that the U.S. House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly - failed in the Senate by just one vote on June 26. (Note: Medicare officials say they will delay processing July claims for up to 14 days in hopes that Congress can pass a bill to avert the cuts retroactive to July 1.)

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted against the bill, prompting Texas Medical Association President Josie Williams, MD, to say Texas physicians "are deeply offended" that they "chose to protect insurance companies' profits instead of protecting our patients' health."

"Either one of them could have made the difference," Dr. Williams said. "Instead, they chose to play partisan politics with our patients' health and voted to  defend unnecessary overpayments  ( PDF ) to certain Medicare Advantage health plans."

Senator Cornyn's vote prompted TEXPAC, TMA's political action arm, to withdraw its endorsement of his reelection effort.

TEXPAC Board of Directors Chair Manuel Acosta, MD, wrote Senator Cornyn that TEXPAC is "outraged that you made the decision to follow the direction of the Bush administration and voted to protect health insurance companies at the expense of America's seniors, those with disabilities, and military families."

The payment cuts "will force physicians into an impossible choice: face financial crisis by continuing to see their Medicare patients, or protect their practices and cut off those patients," Dr. Acosta wrote.

"There is talk and then there is action. We expect our elected officials to show leadership and do the right thing. Absent that, TEXPAC has rescinded our endorsement of your candidacy."

The bill that stalled in the Senate, House Resolution 6331, would:

  • Stop the 10.6-percent cut, continue current rates for the rest of this year, and provide an additional 1.1-percent increase in 2009;
  • Give Congress 18 months to devise a long-term replacement for the Sustainable Growth Rate financing formula, as we demand in TMA's Texas Medicare Manifesto ;
  • Extend the Geographical Practice Cost Index, which protects physicians practicing in most of Texas; and
  • Provide parity for Medicare mental health benefits and increase coverage for preventive services.

TMA urges physicians to contact Senators Cornyn and Hutchison now and demand that they make it their No. 1 priority to pass HR 6331 as soon as they return to Washington from the July 4 recess. See the TMA Grassroots Action Center for some simple talking points and an easy way to contact Senators Hutchison and Cornyn.

If you want to call them directly, here are the numbers to their Capitol Hill offices:

And please don't be misled by talk of a new compromise bill. One of the so-called compromises TMA has heard of would reduce the cost of this bill by trimming the 1.1-percent increase for physicians in 2009 to zero .

TMA also called on elderly patients and Texans with disabilities to urge Senators Cornyn and Hutchison to switch their votes after the July 4 recess.

"We all need to let them know how disappointed we are by their choice of priorities," Dr. Williams said. "We need to let them know that Medicare patients shouldn't have to worry about whether they can find a physician to care for them when they are sick. Health care should be between the patient and his or her doctor, not health insurance plans or the government. Medicare patients shouldn't have to worry about who is going to pay for their health care."

According to recent TMA surveys, 58 percent of Texas physicians say the July 1 cut would force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat. The situation is even worse for primary care physicians - the front line of health care for most Medicare patients. Only 38 percent say they would take new Medicare patients if the cuts go through.

American Medical Association President Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, said physicians "are outraged that a group of Republican senators followed the direction of the Bush administration and voted to protect health insurance companies at the expense of America's seniors, disabled, and military families.

"These senators leave for their 4th of July picnics knowing that the most vulnerable Americans are at risk because of the Senate's inability to act to stop drastic payment cuts for health care services that are needed by our Medicare and TRICARE patients."

She said the "Senate must return from their recess and make seniors' health care their top priority. For doctors, this is not a partisan issue - it's a patient access issue."

AMA is airing television and radio ads urging opponents of HR 6331 to put patients' access to care before insurance profits. The ads will run through the congressional recess, initially in Texas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

The 2008 Medicare Fee Schedule by Geographic Region

We are still hoping that Congress will act quickly and fix the Medicare fee schedule retroactively, but for those of you who need to know, below are the fee  schedules that implement the 10.6 percent cut effective July 1, 2008.

 

 

Action , July 1, 2008

Last Updated On

October 13, 2017

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