State of Union may hold clues to future Medicare pay

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Long-term care providers could get an indication Monday night just how tough it could be to receive a favorable Medicare pay hike next year. The president is expected to unveil a proposal for changing the formula for how doctors are paid during his State of the Union address. 

Long-term care leaders have feared that Congress will cut into their available pool of funding for Medicare pay increases. Physicians were in line for a 10% reimbursement cut at the end of 2007, but late legislation granted them a 0.5% increase for six months instead. Now, they want more. 

Because Medicare trustees last year issued a funding warning, the president is bound by law to send a Medicare savings plan to lawmakers after he releases his 2009 budget proposal early next month. Many observers are skeptical that the president, facing a Congress controlled by the opposing party, will be able to advance much of his healthcare agenda - except when it comes to physician pay increases, which both major political parties agree on.