Physicians Dodge Medicare Pay Cut After AAFP Puts Up Fight

July 06, 2015 11:25 am News Staff

Primary care physicians avoided another potential payment cut when the House and Senate agreed to remove a proposed Medicare pay reduction from trade legislation that recently became law.

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The law, the Trade Preferences Extension Act, initially included a 0.25 percent Medicare payment cut that would have been in effect from October 2024 to March 2025. The proposal didn't sit well with the AAFP, which wrote to legislators in May to argue against the cuts.

"Continuing to double down on the sequester is destructive enough; using these reductions in Medicare to pay for non-Medicare programs is even more alarming to family physicians," AAFP Board Chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., of Kingsport, Tenn., said in the letter(2 page PDF).

Changing the bill's language was an uphill battle given the momentum behind the legislation. When the Senate debated the bill -- meant to aid workers who could be displaced by trade policies -- legislators inserted the additional payment cut, which had not been part of earlier budget proposals.

The bill was then approved by the Senate Finance Committee and subsequently passed the full Senate. But in an unusual turn of events, the House removed the additional Medicare cut and passed its own version of the bill. The Senate eventually approved the revised version, and President Obama signed the bill into law on June 29.

Medicare payments to physicians already had been cut by 2 percent through 2024 as part of budget legislation passed in 2011 and later extensions. The cut that was averted would have reduced Medicare spending by an additional $700 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The AAFP and other physician groups have argued that continued cuts to primary care and other physicians undermine the goals of increasing access for patients and limiting the need for more expensive medical procedures and care provided in costly settings such as ERs.