Health & Science

Looming Cut In Medicare Payments

Doctors are getting nervous about a looming cut in Medicare payments, set to go into effect at the end of this month. They're calling on Congress to block the cut, as it has in years past.

Doctors from the Harris County Medical Society met with Congressman Kevin Brady to plead for a permanent solution to the payment problem.

The Woodlands Republican sits on a joint Congressional committee that must decide what to do by the end of February.

“We know fewer and fewer doctors can afford to see our Medicare patients. In fact, fewer and fewer doctors can afford to run a practice with these uncertain payments. So what I’m looking for today is the ammunition to take back to Washington.”

The problem goes back to a 1997 law that automatically adjusts the Medicare payment rate for doctors. Because of a fixed formula, the payments went up for a few years, but then became payment cuts in 2002.

Doctors say that’s not fair, because their business costs have continued to rise. So every year, Congress has stepped in to block the cuts. Still, doctors haven’t seen an increase in ten years.

Dr. Thomas Murphy is part of a primary care practice in Clear Lake.

“It costs us around $71 to $72 simply to see a patient. Medicare reimburses us around $68 to $69 so we’re already losing money on every single Medicare patient that we see.”

Murphy says he and his partners decided to cut back on the number of Medicare patients they treat.

“We actually don’t take any new Medicare patients, unless they age in to the practice, so no particularly new ones. We can’t handle the dramatic fee cut that’s already out there.”

The Texas Medical Association surveyed its membership — half of the doctors said they would stop accepting Medicare patients if the 27 percent cut goes through.

“What’ll happen is that patients looking for a Medicare doctor won’t be able to find one.”

Dr. Russ Kridel is president elect of the Harris County Medical Society.

“We want to take care of Medicare patients we just have to be able to financially do that.”

Fixing this problem will be part of a larger negotiation over extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.

All three of those budget issues were bundled together in a bill that Congress passed quickly right before Christmas. And all three are set to expire February 29.

comparative fee graph