Every year, doctors face cuts to their Medicare payments. This week, Medicare fees are supposed to be cut by 21%, and doctors are once again threatening to refuse to treat Medicare beneficiaries.
Apparently, in 1997, Congress passed a law which said that if Medicare spending exceeds some complicated formula in a given year, Medicare fees to doctors must be trimmed the next year. Every year since, Medicare spending has grown enough to trigger the cuts to doctor fees. But every year, Congress has voted to ignore the law. Apparently, Congress never repealed the law because it allowed for some fuzzy accounting to make the Medicare budget look better.
Health Beat blogger, Maggie Mahar, who has covered health care for many years in Washington, DC, says the 21% cut is never going to happen. Never has. Never will.
Mahar also writes in her blog that health care reform opponents have propagated the myth that doctors will stop taking Medicare patients in the future. She writes that the health care reform law calls for more money for some doctors and less money for certain specialists and diagnostic tests.
As concerns Medicare:
The law calls for 10 % incentive payments for primary care physicians.
The law requires 5 % incentive payments for mental health services.
The law says that in 2010 and 2011, Medicare will make changes to its payment rates that will benefit physicians in rural and low cost areas.
In 2013 and 2014, Medicaid payments to primary care physicians will be raised to match Medicare rates. The federal government will provide 100% of the funding needed for states to meet this requirement. (Medicaid payments are generally 30% lower than Medicare rates.)
Specialists and expensive procedures and tests are a different story.
Mahar writes that from 2000 to 2006, Medicare spending on diagnostic imaging tests doubled from $7 billion to $14 billion. The health care reform law changes reimbursement for certain expensive tests that will allow Medicare to save $1.9 billion over ten years.
Doctors who have invested in imaging equipment and clinics will not be happy, but studies have apparently shown that the tests have not provided measurable benefits to patients.