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Preventing the 21 percent cut in Medicare payments – Hurdles to Overcome in the Senate

February 2010: In November 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2000, a bill that blocks a 21.2 percent physician-payment cut. Specifically, the bill would amend the Social Security Act to reform the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rates (SGR) payment system for physicians. The SGR was originally created in 1997 to control Medicare spending by cutting payments to doctors if costs exceeded predetermined levels. Only in 2002 did lawmakers allow payment cuts to take place. In other years, lawmakers intervened to prevent payment cuts in order to prevent doctors from leaving the Medicare program. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), if the bill fails to pass, the payment cut for physicians could grow to about 40 percent by 2016. Proponents of the bill argue that such payment cuts will cause fewer doctors to accept Medicare patients and that it is time to implement a permanent fix.

The bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on December 24th, and read for a second time on January 20th. There is speculation, however, as to whether the bill will be passed in the Senate. Opponents to the bill argue that it will increase the federal government’s already record-breaking budget deficit. An additional hurdle the bill must overcome is its characterization by some as part of the Administration’s effort to overhaul the healthcare system. This depiction brings the effort into controversial political territory, thus making the effort to have it passed more difficult.

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