Texas Medical Association pushing for long-term solution after Congress agrees to delay Medicare cuts

US Politics

FILE — Capitol in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday, which is expected to be signed by President Biden, that stalls several Medicare cuts scheduled for the first of the year. The House passed the bill through to the Senate Tuesday.

Overall, the cuts to physicians next year could have been as dramatic as 10% over the year prior, which the Texas Medical Association has previously said would make an already critical physician shortage worse and force those who stayed in the field to cut patients.

According to a survey conducted by the TMA prior to the bill being pushed through Congress, 62% of Texas physicians say they would have been forced to stop seeing new Medicare patients should the full range of cuts happen, and 42% said they would stop seeing existing patients.

While it’s only a temporary fix, the bill extends a hold on a 2% Medicare cut built into the budget until April. From April to June, the cut will only be 1%, and then brought to the full 2% in June.

It also puts a stop to the 4% statutory Pay-As-You-Go sequester until next year and extends a 3.75% increase to the Physician Fee Schedule for a year, which was put in place by lawmakers under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 as a means of helping physicians and hospitals provide care during the pandemic.

“We have stayed in the trenches and taken care of our patients during the pandemic,” said Dr. Linda Villarreal, president of the Texas Medical Association. “At least they’re addressing it, they’re looking at the fact that yes, this is alcohol on the wound.”

Villarreal says physicians’ Medicare payments have not been raised in 20 years, and while this provides temporary relief in the way of cuts, she hopes Congress will look at the issue more long-term.

“I would like that particulate entity that is in control of making these decisions to really get a bird’s eye view of what it takes to see a patient in an office. I think that we have non-medical personnel that are making decisions for our patients,” Villarreal said.

Now, TMA is calling on leaders to start with a clean slate and consider physicians and they move forward in deciding what will happen with the looming slices to Medicare in the federal budget so that patients will continue to have access to their doctors.

“This reduction in payment that was already flawed when you think about, 2001 and what it costs to buy a burger and fries now versus 2001, everything has gone up, it’s going to definitely decrease the physician workforce,” Villarreal said.

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