There is potential good news on the Medicare horizon as far as family physicians are concerned. However, the silver lining is attached to a big, black cloud that could rain on everyone's parade unless Congress intervenes by the end of the year.
On Friday, Oct. 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) put the final rule on the 2010 Medicare physician fee schedule on display for review and comment by all interested stakeholders. CMS plans to publish the final rule in the Federal Register on Nov. 25, 2009. CMS will accept comments until Dec. 29, 2009.
In the final rule, CMS finalized many of the proposals that it made in its proposed rule earlier this year. For those of you keeping score at home, that's good news for family physicians. In fact, in the final rule, CMS estimates that family physicians will experience a 4 percent increase in their Medicare allowed charges in 2010 as a result of the rule, all other things being equal. That is second only to ophthalmologists and optometrists, who are projected to reap a 5 percent increase, and much better than physicians in many other specialties, who are expected to see a decrease in their 2010 Medicare allowed charges as a result of the rule.
Of course, with Medicare, there's always a catch, and the final rule on the 2010 physician fee schedule is no exception. Under current law, the Medicare conversion factor, which translates Medicare's relative value units into payment allowances, is scheduled to decrease 21.2 percent on Jan. 1, 2010, which would more than wipe out the potential gains for family medicine noted above. That means Congress has until Dec. 31, 2009, to intervene, as it has the last several years, to avoid this cut. Forecasters inside the Beltway are optimistic, but as they say on Wall Street, past performance is no indication of future returns.
So, as we approach the new year, the outlook is sunny, but you might want to keep your umbrella handy, just in case.
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