Medicare pay cut averted; Congress OKs
two-month patch

Physicians got a brief reprieve from a 27 percent Medicare pay cut Friday when the U.S. House of Representatives reached agreement with the Senate on a two-month extension of important policies that expire on Jan. 1.

The U.S. Senate last week voted to extend current Medicare payment rates for two months. After first balking at the two-month extension earlier in the week, the House reached an agreement Friday with the Senate to extend the payment rates, as well as the 2 percentage point Social Security tax cut and to extend unemployment benefits. A House-Senate conference committee will convene in January to work on a longer-term agreement.

At a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the goal is to extend all the expiring programs for a full year, except for the physician payment cut reprieve, which is to be extended for two years.

AMA President Peter W. Carmel, MD, called on Congress to "enact a real and fiscally responsible solution to this sorry cycle of scheduled cuts and short-term patches that compromises access to care for patients and drives up costs for taxpayers. Members of Congress need to use this time to work in a bipartisan manner to provide long-term stability for seniors, military families and the physicians who care for them."

Meantime, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has extended the annual Medicare participation enrollment period through Feb. 14. The previous deadline was Dec. 31.

The effective date for any participation status change during the extension, however, remains Jan. 1, and will be enforced for the entire year. According to CMS, contractors will accept and process any participation elections or withdrawals made during the extended enrollment period that are post-marked on or before Feb. 14.