For the sixth year in a row, Congress has stepped in at the 11th hour to pass a stopgap bill that avoids drastic cuts in Medicare reimbursements. On December 29, President Bush signed the bill into law.

But, this short-term fix merely delays for six months the planned 10.1% cuts in Medicare fees.

The proposed 2008 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule was supposed to go into effect January 1. Left unchanged, it would have slashed total Medicare payments by 10.1% and reduced payments for optometry services by 6%.

The new interim legislation increases Medicare physician fees by 0.5%. It also extends several programs that provide higher Medicare reimbursement rates to rural health-care providers and hospital laboratories. The measure also continues the bonus for the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative for the next several years and maintains funding for the State Childrens Health Insurance Program through March 31, 2009.

However, the legislation doesnt provide a permanent fix for future physician fee cuts. Unless Congress steps in again, the 10% cut will go back into effect after the six months.

David Sloane, director of government relations for AARP, says the stopgap measure is woefully inadequate.

Enactment of this legislation does little to protect millions of Medicare beneficiaries from higher monthly premiums and only temporarily averts the problems beneficiaries would face finding a physician if payment cuts take place, Mr. Sloane says.

Vol. No: 145:01Issue: 1/15/2008