Health Overhaul Train Leaves Doctors On The Platform : Shots - Health News Doctors with Medicare patients should get their pay restored soon.  But, come November, they pay problems could come back.

Health Overhaul Train Leaves Doctors On The Platform

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Doctors and seniors are breathing a little easier today. This morning, President Obama signed a bill to cancel a 21-percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients. But it's only a temporary solution. Unless Congress figures out a way to fix what pretty much everyone agrees is a flawed formula, the cut will return in December.

As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, all this raises an important question: Why haven't the nation's doctors been as successful getting their problems fixed as other health industry groups?

JULIE ROVNER: Organized medicine isn't exactly jumping for joy now that the 21 percent cut in Medicare pay has been replaced with a 2.2 percent raise until the end of November. Cecil Wilson is the president of the American Medical Association.

Dr. CECIL WILSON (President, American Medical Association): This is a temporary reprieve for a system that has just gone awry, a program that Congress has made unreliable.

ROVNER: Dr. Wilson's frustration may have something to do with the fact that this is the third time this year Congress has had to cancel the cut and the second time it's had to do it retroactively. And it's hardly a new problem for lawmakers, he says.

Dr. WILSON: For the last nine years, they have dropped the ball. Each year, they threaten cuts. Each year, those threatened cuts get bigger.

ROVNER: But there are some who think it might be the leaders of organized medicine who've dropped the ball. Alec Vachon is a health policy consultant in Washington, D.C. He says hospitals, prescription drug-makers and other groups made sure they got what they needed before they endorsed the health overhaul bill but not doctors.

Dr. ALEC VACHON (Health Policy Consultant): Not insisting from the very beginning that any health care reform bill have a permanent fix to this broken update system, that was when they made their mistake. That should have been their demand from day one. We're not going to be supportive of this process unless we can ensure that our members can actually take care of Medicare patients because, right now, all that's in jeopardy because of this broken update system.

ROVNER: The original version of the House overhaul bill did fix the doctor payment problem, but the fix was dropped because it costs too much, and Vachon says now that Congress has turned its attention to other things, prospects for spending a lot of money on doctors aren't good.

Dr. VACHON: That was the moment they should have seized. They didn't get it. They didn't insist upon it, and now they have got no leverage.

ROVNER: But AMA president Wilson says there's only one place to put the blame, and it's not on the nation's doctors.

Dr. WILSON: The failure here is a failure of Congress to act responsibly. It is in Congress' lap. Now, we can urge them to do this, and we will continue to apply pressure, but the responsibility to do that is Congress.

ROVNER: Congress now has six more months to figure out how to solve the Medicare doctor pay problem.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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