Wilson Votes "Yes" on Fix for Medicare Physician Cuts
Rural Health Bonus Good for New Mexico
Rep. Heather Wilson voted today in support of replacing an excessive 10.1% pending cut in Medicare physician reimbursement rates with a .5% increase through June 30, 2008. The Medicare package today also extends the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) until March 31, 2009 and is expected by signed by President Bush. The package includes important rural provisions for rural New Mexico and provides a waiver for New Mexico allowing the state to use SCHIP dollars to cover lower income kids.
Fixing the Doctor Medicare Cut
Earlier this month, Wilson sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to prevent a looming and massive cut in physician payments. Wilson told Pelosi that unless Congress acted swiftly, the reduction would make it even more difficult for seniors and disabled New Mexicans to access quality health care.
Physicians often cite uncertain payment rates and Medicare's onerous and burdensome regulations as reasons for refusing to see Medicare patients. It was estimated that the 10.1% reduction would have affected 16,505 employees, 244,718 Medicare patients, and 86,538 TRICARE patients in New Mexico.
"I was extremely concerned about the proposed cut. I am pleased that we were able to provide a .5% increase for the first six months of 2008. Now that we have a temporary fix in place we need to pursue a permanent solution to the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula," said Wilson. "This is a good stop-gap measure, but we won't be able to hang our hats on this bill for very long."
"This is a temporary victory for New Mexicans. I remain committed to working with my colleagues on a permanent solution to children's health coverage and Medicare physician payments as we move forward in 2008," said Wilson.
Medicare Bonus in Rural New Mexico
Today's vote also secured important provisions for rural New Mexico. The legislation includes a six-month extension of a 5% bonus to doctors practicing in rural areas which will affect 21 of 33 New Mexico counties. It also includes a six-month extension of a fix to a geographic payment adjustment that pays doctors more in Manhattan than New Mexico based upon where they practice.
"This bill extends important rural provisions that first passed in the 2003 Medicare Bill and will help improve access to health care in rural parts of New Mexico," said Wilson. "We are already seeing increasing problems with seniors not being able to find a doctor that will take Medicare in rural parts of New Mexico, particularly in the four corners/Northwest New Mexico area. This bill will help address the issue."
Major reductions in Medicare Advantage and nursing home payments have been temporarily avoided. The House passed Democratic legislation earlier this year that would have expanded SCHIP and increased doctor's payments by cutting benefits for seniors in Medicare Advantage, which Wilson opposed. Medicare Advantage is an important program for seniors in New Mexico, and 55,000 New Mexico seniors are enrolled. Today's bill also avoided a controversial proposal to reorganize the Medicare Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program, a proposal opposed by doctors in New Mexico and by Wilson.
SCHIP fix for New Mexico
The SCHIP provisions extend the current program through March 31, 2009, and ensure that no state faces a financial shortfall. It also includes a provision, supported by Wilson that gives New Mexico more flexibility to cover kids from lower-income families in Medicaid. Because of how the original SCHIP statute was written, New Mexico and 10 other states were prohibited from using SCHIP funds for kids from families with income between 150% and 185% of poverty, while other states can. Wilson worked with Senator Bingaman in 2003 to correct this inequity, and today's legislation continues that policy. This helps New Mexico keep millions for low-income children's health that would otherwise be returned to the Treasury.
The bill also extends the Special Diabetes Programs for Type 1 Diabetes and Indians for one additional year and authorizes $150 million in funding for these juvenile diabetes programs and Native American diabetes programs. Tribes and pueblos in New Mexico have asked Wilson to reauthorize this program. Wilson is a cosponsor of House legislation, sponsored by Senator Domenici in the Senate, that would reauthorize the program for three additional years at $200 million per year.
Wilson serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and public health matters.