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Senate tries to protect doctors from Medicare rate cuts

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Doctors would see their federal Medicare reimbursement rates hold steady in December, under a bipartisan bill passed Thursday in the Senate.

The $1 billion measure would block a scheduled 23% cut in physician payments. The so-called doc-fix legislation was introduced by Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.

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. Rate cuts have now been blocked 10 times in the last eight years, including four times this year.

The new bill would be paid for using savings from a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services policy that reduces payments for multiple therapy services provided to patients in one day.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House should take it up when it reconvenes on Nov. 29.

Doctors have been heavily lobbying lawmakers to prevent the scheduled cut from taking effect. The American Medical Association has said that if the cut is enacted, doctors may have to stop accepting Medicare patients. Some 43 million people, mostly senior citizens, receive Medicare benefits.

The AMA wants the rate cut blocked for 13 months because it is scheduled to widen to 25% next year.

The senators said they are working on a measure that would extend the current payment rates through 2011. To top of page

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