Doc Fix Not Fixed Yet!
Senate Debate Delays Passage Past Deadline.
A Senate vote on the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010 (H.R. 4213) is expected to occur either later this week or next. This significant legislation postpones a scheduled 21.2 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients. Commonly known as the “Doc Fix”, this bill would delay cuts to physicians through December 2011.
The $115 billion package includes unemployment benefits, Medicare/TRICARE payments, corporate tax breaks, farmer settlement funds, extensions to sun-setting tax credits, and others items. This has slowed passages over deficit concerns. Both majority and minority parties also want to amend the bill, which will further delay it going to the White House. Once passed the scheduled cuts to Medicare and TRICARE fees paid to physicians will be delayed for 19-months.
Should the bill be amended, the measure would then have to be reapproved by the House before becoming law, otherwise it is sent to Congress.
Congress has already missed its previously set deadline of June 1st. This is the third time that Congress has done a short term correction this year. Each correction was made early enough to allow the federal government to pay medical claims without reducing payments. Yet this time, it appears because of ongoing debate in the Senate, that Congress may have waited too long. The House did pass its version of the bill before leaving on the Memorial Day recess.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been authorized by the White House to delay claim processing for 10 business days to give Congress additional time to correct the problem, but this puts the deadline at Monday, June 14th. The hold on claims ended on Tuesday. CMS must pay the majority of claims filed within 30 days, meaning that a number of physicians will be paid at a rate reduced by 21 percent.
While the TRICARE Management Activity must take similar action, the Reserve Officer Association has been reassured that their payments take an additional 30 days, so DoD Health Affairs feels that Congress will be able to correct the current deadline before discounted TRICARE claim payments have to be made.
Current beneficiaries should remain unaffected by this delay. It will be the doctors who will have their cash flow impacted by either lower claim payments or delayed submissions until after Congress makes the needed corrections. Without a permanent fix to the planned cuts, many doctors may reconsider treating Medicare or TRICARE patients. The American Medical Association is lobbying to remove these scheduled reductions.
Some associations have distributed e-mails making this seem as an urgent crisis. The Reserve Officers Association has been highlighting this problem before the beginning of 2010. Concerned members can write members of Congress to expedite this at http://www.roa.org/write2congress.
Marshall Hanson, CAPT, USNR (ret.)
ROA Legislative Director