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Medicare rate cut delayed - for now

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The House approved Monday a $1 billion measure that delays by one month a 23% cut in federal Medicare reimbursements to doctors.

The Senate approved the legislation earlier this month. It now moves to President Obama's desk for signature.

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 been blocked 10 times in the last eight years, including four times this year.

The legislation approved Monday will 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.

Doctors have been heavily lobbying lawmakers to prevent the scheduled cut from taking effect on Dec. 1. The American Medical Association had said that if the cut were enacted, some doctors would have had to stop accepting Medicare patients. Some 43 million people, mostly senior citizens, receive Medicare benefits.

Monday's measure, however, is only a temporary fix. The association wants the rate cut blocked for 13 months because it is scheduled to widen to 25% next year. Some senators have said they are working on a bill that would extend the current payment rates through 2011.

"While this short-term delay helps ensure that physicians can continue to care for seniors for the next month, congressional action early in December to stop the cut for one year will inject stability into the Medicare program," said Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the association's president.

CNN Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report. To top of page

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