Both houses of Congress passed a bill that prevents cuts to Medicare physician payments from taking effect April 1 as scheduled.
President Obama subsequently signed the bill into law, thus delaying a 24% cut in payments until at least April 1, 2015. Payments instead will go up by 0.5%.
Also delayed are implementation of the new ICD-10 medical codes, from October 2014 to October 2015; and the two-midnight rule for determining Medicare inpatient status, from October 2014 to March 2015.
Funding for community health centers to bolster mental healthcare also is in the law, as are provisions extending higher Medicare payments for rural hospitals and ambulance rides in rural areas.
To fund the doc fix and other features, lawmakers extended the 2% reduction in Medicare provider payments in the federal budget sequester by one year, to 2024, and cuts to the Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital program by a year. DSH cuts now are scheduled to take effect from 2017 through 2024, rather than 2016.
Physicians were hoping for a long-term solution rather than another short-term fix. Congress has voted 17 times during the last 11 years to delay the payment cut, but cannot agree on how to pay for permanent reform of Medicare physician payments.
This bill perpetuates an environment of uncertainty for physicians, making it harder for them to implement new innovative systems to better coordinate care and improve quality of care for patients, Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, president of the American Medical Association, wrote in a statement.