So the good news is that our latest Medicare crisis has been averted for now. At the eleventh hour, Congress and the President managed to patch together a short-term compromise which will, in addition to extending the payroll tax break and unemployment benefits, keep Medicare payments to doctors intact for another two months.
Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner had shot down a short-term, bipartisan deal which would have continued current Medicare payments to doctors and extended the payroll tax break for middle-class Americans, calling on Congress to work on a year-long extension instead of “kicking the can down the road.” “It’s time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences and extend this for one year,” Mr. Boehner said. “How can you have tax policy for two months?” But Mr. Boehner finally caved to mounting pressure from within his own party to cut his political losses and pass the short-term extensions which would continue tax relief to 160 million Americans and continue Medicare payments to doctors.
Hopefully, it will be enough time for the federal government to craft a longer-term solution to the annual Medicare “doc fix” issue. However, in case Congress doesn’t reach a longer-term answer for the Medicare cuts, here are some things to keep in mind while any answers are being hammered out:
What impact will this have on seniors? Unfortunately, if the Medicare payment cuts go into effect, the most likely effect is that many doctors may begin turning away Medicare patients and/or severely restricting the number of Medicare patients that they take. Recent cuts in Medicaid payments to doctors have resulted in severe shortages in doctors who will accept Medicaid patients in some areas of the country. Although the new rules include payment incentives for primary care physicians (PCPs) and general surgeons in areas with doctor shortages, unfortunately, some expect a similar result for Medicare.
What can you do? Find out from your doctor whether he or she expects to continue seeing Medicare patients if the cuts go into effect. If not, you might consider starting to shop around for a new physician who will still accept Medicare payments. Even if your doctor plans to continuing to see Medicare patients, we think it’s a good idea to make sure that you schedule your appointments as far in advance as possible in case he or she starts cutting back on the time they spend with seniors.
Do you think Congress will be able to pass something more permanent this year? Tell us about it at the MyHealthCafe.com Forums.
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