Bush Plans Another Cut in Medicare Payments to Doctors

The Bush administration has announced it expects to cut Medicare payments to doctors by another 4.2 percent at the beginning of 2004, unless Congress passes legislation that would reduce or eliminate the cut.

The proposed cut follows a 5.4 percent payment reduction to doctors who treat Medicare patients last year. The administration said that the proposed pay cuts would not adversely affect Medicare beneficiaries or their access to care. However, organizations representing doctors disagree.

"Without prompt action by Congress, the repercussions of this payment cut will be felt by senior and disabled patients who rely on Medicare to provide health care," said Donald J. Palmisano, MD, president of the American Medical Association. "Doctors are reaching a breaking point, where they can''t afford to keep accepting new Medicare patients and keep their practices open."

Maureen Maxwell, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians, added that more than 20 percent of family doctors are not accepting new Medicare beneficiaries.

The House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1), which are being considered in conference committee, could prevent the payment reduction, although there is no guarantee that that Congress will finish work on Medicare reform before January 1, when the payment cut is set to take effect.