Determined to ensure that Medicare patients continue to receive care from doctors in Alaska and across the country, U.S. Senator Mark Begich today voted to prevent a 24 percent cut to Medicare providers scheduled to take effect Tuesday and introduced legislation designed to provide additional fixes to Medicare. The Protecting Access to Medicare Act passed the Senate with a vote of 64 to 35.
"Though I'm pleased a bipartisan bill passed today, I'm still determined to find a permanent fix to this problem in which elderly Americans are at risk of inadequate health care," Begich said. "This Congress cannot continue to kick the can down the road -- on this and other critical issues."
Due to the so-called sustainable growth rate (SGR), a reimbursement formula widely recognized as flawed, the reduction in payment to Medicare providers was schedule to go into effect tomorrow. While Begich supported the temporary patch offered today to address the immediate problem of physician compensation, he expressed frustration that the Senate failed to rally behind a permanent fix.
At the same time, Begich is building on efforts to improve Medicare by introducing two Medicare bills today: the Medicare Access Improvement Act and the Medicare Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act.
The Medicare Access Improvement Act will addresses the longstanding problem Medicare beneficiaries have in finding a primary care physician in Alaska. This bill will provide more generous reimbursement to primary care physicians by increasing Medicare rates to be in line with other primary care physician rates set by the state. This bill has received support from the American Academy of Family Physicians
The Medical Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Act will extend the current Rural Community Hospital (RCH) Demonstration Program. Currently, this program provides cost based reimbursement to rural hospitals that are too large to be Critical Access Hospitals. The bill helps address the unique challenges and financial uncertainty facing hospitals delivering health care in our rural communities. Three Alaska hospitals would benefit from the bill: Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, and Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka.