Senators block plan to repeal Medicare physician pay formula

November 5, 2009

Legislation that would have repealed the controversial Medicare physician payment formula has been blocked by Senate Republicans and Democrats, who expressed worries about its cost.

Legislation that would have repealed the controversial Medicare physician payment formula has been blocked by Senate Republicans and Democrats, who expressed worries about its cost.

The Medicare Physician Fairness Act (S. 1776) would have protected Medicare for the future by permanently repealing a flawed payment system so that physicians will continue serving Medicare seniors and TRICARE recipients, according to a statement by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who introduced the legislation.

"I am disappointed that we did not have the votes to proceed to this critical bill, but I will continue my effort to work with the White House and leadership to strengthen Medicare and shift the focus to paying for quality of care rather than quantity of treatments," Stabenow said.

The payment formula has led to scheduled physician payment cuts for 8 years in a row. Since the first cut in 2002, Congress has adopted a short-term approach that temporarily delays the cuts and pushes them off to the future.

By a vote of 47 in favor to 53 opposed, the Stabenow bill failed to proceed beyond the first of several possible procedural challenges that would have required 60 votes to overcome. A successful vote would have brought the legislation to the floor and limited debate on it.

"The AMA is deeply disappointed that the Senate blocked consideration of S. 1776, legislation to preserve access to health care for America’s seniors, baby boomers, and military families," said AMA President J. James Rohack, MD.

"As we work to improve the health system, permanent repeal of the payment formula is essential to ensuring the security and stability of Medicare. On January 1, Medicare physician payments are scheduled to be cut by 21%, with more cuts in years to come. Nearly 90% of people age 50 and older are concerned that the current Medicare physician payment formula threatens their access to care."