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Doctors to Congress: Don't cut our pay!

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Doctors aren't wasting any time lobbying lawmakers to stop a 23% cut in Medicare reimbursements set to kick in on Dec. 1.

The American Medical Association issued a statement on Election Day asking lawmakers to prevent the cut in fees from taking effect for 13 months. That same day, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released its payment schedule for 2011, when the reduction would widen to 25%.

Doctors have said that if the cut is enacted they may have to stop accepting Medicare patients. Some 43 million people, mostly senior citizens, receive Medicare benefits.

"Physicians are anxious about the future, and [are] making decisions now about how many Medicare patients they can see and their participation status in Medicare for next year," said Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the association's president.

How Congress handles the so-called doc-fix measure, along with the looming Nov. 30 deadline to file for extended unemployment insurance, will be an early test of the new power structure in Washington and the new anti-spending sentiment in the Capitol. Lawmakers, who don't return until Nov. 15, will only have a few days in which to vote this month before recessing for the holidays.

Both deadlines have been extended multiple times this year as Congress tried to strike a balance between continuing programs and adding to the deficit. The most recent doc-fix -- which lasted six months and cost $6.4 billion -- was passed at the end of June.

But doctors and the unemployed may have to wait until the new Congress is seated in January to learn their fate, said Sarah Binder, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. There isn't much appetite on the Republican side to pass any bills before they take control of the House of Representatives. And lawmakers will be pretty wrapped up with what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts.

Physicians are also asking Congress to overhaul the way that Medicare reimbursement rates are determined. A 1997 law requires that doctors' Medicare rates be adjusted each year based on the health of the economy, with the goal of keeping the program in the black. Payment cuts have now been blocked 10 times in the last eight years, including four times this year.

--An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that reimbursement rate changes have been blocked 10 times in the last eight years, including four times this year. Payments cuts were blocked, not reimbursement rate changes. To top of page

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