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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010 Medicare physician fee schedule: What next?

When we last left the 2010 Medicare physician fee schedule (see "2010 Medicare physician fee schedule: the saga continues," Jan. 27, 2010), it was headed down the tracks towards a "Bridge Out!!" sign after Feb. 28. For those of you who don't follow this story on a day-to-day basis, here is what's happened in the interim. 

As typically happens in this story, Congress tried to avert calamity by passing a stop-gap bill just before Feb. 28, 2010. Unfortunately, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) decided to play Snidely Whiplash in this particular installment and used Senate procedures to prevent Congressional action in advance of the deadline. Consequently, Feb. 28 came and went without Congressional intervention, and the fee schedule dropped on March 1. 

Seeking to play Dudley Do-Right in our story, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) bravely threw the fee schedule a lifeline and instructed its contractors to hold all Medicare claims with dates of services on or after March 1 for 10 business days to give Congress one more chance. On March 2, Congress and the President took advantage of that lifeline and enacted legislation (H.R. 4691) that extends the 2009 Medicare payment rate through the end of March. This effectively postpones any cut in the 2010 Medicare physician fee schedule until Apr. 1, 2010 – April Fools' Day.  (Coincidence or cruel irony? You decide.)

So now, the 2010 Medicare physician fee schedule will float along at the 2009 rate through at least the end of March, at which point it is scheduled to plunge over the falls to a precipitous 21 percent decline. Will CMS once again be called upon to throw the fee schedule a lifeline? Will Congress be able once again to rescue the fee schedule before total disaster strikes? And how many physicians will stick it out (instead of opting out) to see what happens? Stay tuned! 

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