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Obama Signs 'Doc Fix' Bill

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 16, 2010

President Obama Wednesday signed a bill that delays a dreaded 25% pay cut for physicians who treat Medicare and military patients, legislation that medical groups said was sorely needed to maintain access to quality care for seniors.

"Without the action the President took today, doctors who see Medicare patients and families enrolled in TRICARE would have seen their payments slashed by 23 percent, Nancy deParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, wrote on the White House Blog. Another 1.9% cut was set to take effect Jan. 1.

"The pay cut wouldn't have just hurt doctors---seniors and families across America would have suffered as well. Many doctors would have simply stopped seeing Medicare patients and military families if this pay cut took effect, effectively denying patients the chance to see the doctor they know and trust."

The bill, officially called the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010, postpones the Sustainable Growth Rate formula, which sets the rates by which Medicare and TRICARE doctors are paid.

Implementation of the formula, which is based on the economy and how much Medicare spends, has been delayed consistently since 2002, and in that time the percentage of pay cut has steadily grown. Each time, physician groups and others who demanded a permanent fix criticized Congress for "kicking this can down the road one more time" rather than permanently repealing it.

The American Medical Association was happy for the one-year extension, which will give newly elected lawmakers a chance to get up to speed in hope of permanently repealing the antiquated formula next year.

"The AMA commends President Obama and bipartisan leaders in the Senate and House for their commitment to a year-long delay of the 25 percent cut," said AMA president Cecil B. Wilson, MD. "The AMA strongly advocated for this one-year delay to create a stable environment for seniors and their physicians. Leaving behind this year’s vicious cycle of five delays was crucial to preserving health care for seniors, and it provides time for Congress to work on a long-term solution to the physician payment problem.

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