Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today introduced legislation extending through 2011 a fix to the Medicare physician payment formula to ensure seniors and military families can be confident they will be able to continue seeing their doctors. The legislation would ensure Medicare and Tricare, the health care program for active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members, retirees and their families, will continue to pay physicians who participate in those programs at current levels.
"I will never stop fighting for Nevada's seniors and military families, and the bipartisan agreement we reached today should give peace of mind to them and seniors across the nation. This agreement ensures they can continue seeing their doctors and getting the treatment they need," said Senator Reid. "I commend Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley for working across the aisle to reach this common-sense solution, which protects our seniors and veterans and fairly compensates doctors for the care they provide."
"I'm encouraged that we were able to work together in a bipartisan way and protect access to care for America's 45 million Medicare beneficiaries in a fiscally responsible manner," said Senator McConnell. "This bipartisan accomplishment will help ensure that Kentucky's seniors and military personnel and their families won't be denied access to their doctors as a result of inaction in Washington."
"This bill ensures seniors and military families can be confident they will be able to continue to see the doctors they know and trust," said Baucus. "Working together, we put together a longer-term solution to provide the certainty doctors need and the security patients deserve. This bill means seniors and military families in Montana and across the country can now have the peace of mind of knowing they can continue to get the best care possible."
"With a double-digit payment cut, some doctors would stop seeing Medicare and Tricare patients," Grassley said. "This bipartisan agreement will help to ensure that older Americans and military families can continue to get quality health care."
The bill, the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010, would avoid a 25 percent cut to Medicare physician payments under the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that would otherwise go into effect on January 1, 2011. The proposal also includes extensions of other expiring health care provisions, including protections for rural hospitals and doctors, Transitional Medical Assistance, and the Special Diabetes Program. The legislation would be paid for by modifying the policy regarding overpayments of the health care affordability tax credit. This policy does not change the tax credits for which people are eligible based on their income. Instead, the proposal would change the way people pay back overpayments when they have received more credit than they are eligible for because, for example, they earned more money than expected in a given year.
Under current law there is a flat cap of $250 for individuals and $400 for families on the amount of the health care affordability tax credit people are required to pay back when they received an overpayment. This payback cap is the same for people earning 160 percent of the federal poverty level and 360 percent of the federal poverty level. Under this proposal for correcting overpayments, the cap on the payback amount would be on a sliding scale based on the income of the recipient of the tax credit, making the policy fairer to both recipients and all taxpayers.
The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the Medicare program and the physician payment formula, which also sets payment levels for the Tricare program. A summary of the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 follows below. The legislative text of the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 can be found on the Finance Committee website http://finance.senate.gov/legislation/.