Providers warned: Delay in Medicare payments coming

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Those in charge of adding up the numbers at nursing homes will have a new twist to contend with late next month: No Medicare reimbursement checks for more than a week. From Sept. 22-30, the last nine days of the federal budget year, the administration will cut no Medicare checks to providers.

Payment in full will come as soon as the new budget year begins in Oct. 1, however. But no interest will be added on to the payments. The government is merely shifting $5.2 billion in Medicare expenses to next year's budget. The alternative was to reduce reimbursements this budget year, according to a Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman.

While some providers have expressed their displeasure with the Congress-approved measure, the net effect for most operations should be minimal, according to many experts.

"I think they get frustrated with these games, but they'll survive," said Chris Jennings, a health policy analyst who used to work in the Clinton administration. "It's just another game, another burden they don't want to bear." The Medicare "holiday" has occurred at least once before, in the early 1980s.