Medicare physician pay cuts officially kick in Wednesday

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it will hold physician claims for 14 calendar days, thereby delaying 21% rate cuts otherwise set to take effect Wednesday. CMS, among others, is anticipating the Senate will approve sweeping legislation to repeal the “Sustainable Growth Rate” formula that mandates pay levels.

The Senate recessed Friday without acting on H.R. 2, which had been overwhelmingly approved the day before in the House.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stopped short of telling reporters Friday the Senate would follow the House's lead in approving H.R 2., which abolishes the SGR. The measure has compelled Congress to provide a funding patch 17 straight times to avert doc pay cuts.

“I wanted to reassure everyone this two-week delay will not impact [doctors] and I think we'll be able to figure a way to go forward very quickly on something that is so overwhelmingly popular on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said. The Senate will only have two days to act on the bill before the rate cuts take actual chunks out of payments sent to doctors. The Senate reconvenes April 13 but has no votes scheduled for then; that means it could down to 24 hours of nail-biting before the cuts take irrevocable hold.

Some observers welcome the delay as one way to calm most sharp opposition, which partly centers on Republican criticism on how to fund the $214 billion bill. Some Senate Democrats have voiced opposition to the bill because it provides only a two-year funding extension for the Children's Health Insurance Program instead of four. Party leaders have said there will be only a small number of amendments offered to the bill.