Senate passes Medicare bill to President Bush

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Physicians are appealing to the president to repeal payment cuts. Source: NephrOnline  

The Senate Wednesday overcame partisan gridlock to pass the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R. 6331) by a veto-majority of 69-30, which now goes to President George W. Bush for consideration.

Several senators switched their stance from the last time the Senate voted on identical legislation June 26. Intense lobbying and grassroots by the physician community and other stakeholders over the July Fourth congressional recess led to the reversal of the impasse.

“We especially appreciate the heroic efforts of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who made this critical vote his first after his surgery. We also applaud those senators who put patients first and voted yes even though they had concerns about the process or some of the bill’s provisions,” according to J. James Rohack, MD, president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA).

The bill repeals the 10.6 percent physician payment cut called for by Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula that went into effect July 1. The measure replaces that cut as well as a 5 percent cut set for Jan. 1, 2009, with a 0.5 percent positive update for the rest of the year and a 1.1 percent update through 2009.

Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said it would not process any claims for the first 10 days in July, a move that gave Congress a chance to change the mandated 10.6 percent reimbursement reduction.

The legislation also calls for providers of advanced diagnostic imaging services (MR, CT, PET and nuclear medicine) to be accredited in order to receive payment for the technical component of those services, and establishes a two-year voluntary demonstration program to test the use of physician-developed appropriateness criteria, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR).

“The ACR is gratified that Congress has acted to preserve access to care for our nation’s seniors by averting this drastic reimbursement cut and at the same time increasing the quality of those services by enacting quality and safety standards for medical imaging providers,” said James H. Thrall, MD, chair of the ACR Board of Chancellors.

The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) commended Congress for passing the Medicare legislation, stating that the accreditation and appropriateness criteria provisions in the legislation “are important steps toward ensuring proper utilization of medical imaging services.”

The AMA said it now urges “President Bush to hear and heed the voices of seniors, the disabled and military families – and sign the bill into law for the health of America.”