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Doctors: Senators 'took a vacation,' left Medicare a mess

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The American Medical Association is launching an ad campaign pushing lawmakers to freeze a 21% cut to the fees doctors receive to treat Medicare patients.

The House voted May 28 to delay the cuts for 19 months, but the Senate did not take action before the Memorial Day recess.

The AMA's TV, radio and print ads slam senators for failing to pass the "doc fix" before taking their week-long break. The group has a long history of pushing to reform the formula used to calculate Medicare payments to doctors.

The ads feature a lot of air travel imagery, implying that lawmakers are jetting off to luxe locales while their constituents suffer. More than 43 million Americans are covered under Medicare.

"With access to health care for seniors ... hanging in the balance, what did the U.S. Senate do? They took a vacation," the ads say, urging Americans to call their senators and tell them to "get back to work."

The cuts were slated to take effect June 1, but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services instructed its contractors to delay processing claims for 10 business days.

CMS implemented the delay in the hope that Congress will vote to freeze the Medicare reimbursement cuts retroactively, as it has done before.

"[Lawmakers] need to understand that the decisions made in Washington impact real people," said James Rohack, AMA president, in a conference call.

Doctors consider opting out of Medicare: Rohack went on to condemn the current payment rate formula, which federal law established in 1997 and says rates should be cut every year to keep Medicare in the black. But Congress has blocked those cuts in seven of the last eight years.

"Medicare payments are stuck where they were in 2001, while medical costs are up by 20% according to the government's own data," Rohack said.

And 60% of Medicare physicians are considering opting out of the program in order to stay afloat, Rohack added.

The AMA wants the reimbursement formula to be overhauled as the baby boomers start to age into the Medicare system. Developing a new plan would now cost $212 billion, but that figure has quadrupled over the past five years. An overhaul in 2005 would have cost $49 billion, and that price tag will continue to grow exponentially as the issue gets kicked down the road.

"This Congress needs to do what past Congresses wouldn't," Rohack said. "Look at the issue and fix this broken foundation once and for all." To top of page

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