Failure to resolve budget reconciliation leaves patients and doctors uncertain

The nation's patients and their doctors today are left uncertain about a scheduled 4.4 percent cut for Medicare reimbursement. The effects of this uncertainty go well beyond the amounts that physicians are paid. They have far-reaching impact on the access the aging population of America will have to future health care.

On Monday, the House passed a budget reconciliation bill that extended the current Medicare physician payment rates through 2006. The Senate version of the budget bill, passed yesterday, includes an identical provision to halt the cuts. However, because the Senate accepted several procedural moves that altered the conference report, the bill now must go back to the House for final approval. If changes are not made to the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula by Jan. 1st, the cuts will take effect.

"Patients and physicians will not understand why technicalities and politics are delaying congressional action to halt devastating Medicare cuts," said C. Anderson Hedberg, MD, FACP, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP). "We call on Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to do whatever is necessary to stop the cuts. Both the House and Senate have agreed the cuts should be halted, and we appreciate their good intentions. Yet we are faced with uncertainty and confusion, instead of the decisive action in Washington that our patients require."

"We also urge CMS to consider taking the administrative steps available to them to delay the cuts pending Congress's return," Dr. Hedberg continued. "After all, both the House and the Senate made their intentions clear in their respective reconciliation packages."

The SGR formula unfairly ties the fees paid for physician services to the performance of the overall economy. Because costs of taking care of an aging population, many of whom have multiple chronic diseases, continue to increase at a faster rate than overall growth

Contact: David Kinsman
American College of Physicians

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