Is There a Doctor in the (U.S.) House?

June 23, 2010

There are more than a dozen former and current physicians and members of the medical field present in the U.S. House of Representatives, yet many are keeping mum over the likelihood their congressional body will not act on the scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements.

There are more than a dozen former and current physicians and members of the medical field present in the U.S. House of Representatives, yet many are keeping mum over the likelihood their congressional body will not act on the scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Last week, the U.S. Senate approved a six-month delay in the proposed cut, as well as a 2.2 percent Medicare payment update. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said her chamber of Congress would not agree on what she deemed “inadequate” legislation. Instead, she pushed the Senate to include long-term Medicaid reimbursement reform as part of a broader jobs bill.

So starting June 1, CMS began processing claims with the 21 percent cut, fully expecting to reprocess claims when and if Congress can reach a consensus on delaying the cut for six months or longer. But with Pelosi’s statement, that seems unlikely to occur.

Of the 15 current members of the House with various medical backgrounds, very few have stepped up to defend physicians struggling with the financial uncertainty facing their practices.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) was the lone congressman physician in the House to issue a statement, likening Pelosi’s stance to a standoff hurting both doctors and senior citizens in their care.

“ Seniors’ access to health care is being held hostage to the Democrats’ deficit spending addiction,” Price said in a statement. “Every year, more and more physicians leave Medicare because the reimbursements do not cover their costs. A 21 percent cut will turn this steady flow into a deluge. Unlike Washington, doctors’ offices cannot operate with enormous annual deficits.“

Price continued to say Congress as a whole owes it “to every generation” to find a solution to the reimbursement crisis as, “the American people are tired of politicians looking for leverage when they should be providing leadership.”

More reaction could come today from another physician, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus. Burgess is also a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health, which holds a hearing this afternoon on a recent report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

[Physicians Practice spoke to Burgess about health care from a physician’s perspective, including Medicare payments, in a recent podcast.]

The non-partisan, independent legislative branch advises Congress on the Medicare program and in June, issued a report on opportunities to improve program quality and efficiency by improving CMS. While the 21 percent cut was not a main topic of the report, media outlets speculate it will be a main topic of discussion for Burgess, a former physician of more than three decades.

Perhaps Burgess, or one of the other docs in the House, has the right prescription for a congressional solution to the issue.