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 Article of Interest - Medicare

Doctors to see decrease in Medicare payments in 2003
Associated Press, December 20, 2002
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Physicians will see a smaller than expected cut in Medicare payments next year, but Congress must act to prevent further erosion in doctor payments, Medicare's administrator said today.

Under figures released by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, doctors will see a 4.4 percent decrease in Medicare payments, smaller than the 5.1 percent cut that had been expected.

Physician payments are determined by a formula that relies on the state of the economy, which is now struggling.

Tom Scully, Medicare administrator, said the agency did what it could to refine the methodology slightly to ease the pain of the reduction. But he said any further action must come from Capitol Hill.

"CMS has done everything it can to shore up physician payments for 2003, but only Congress has the authority to fix the formula," Scully said.

Doctors have lobbied Congress to do just that, and many physicians have begun refusing to take on new Medicare patients, saying they cannot afford to bear the costs.

Physicians have already taken a 5.4 percent cut for 2002 and are estimated to lose about $11 billion over the next three years, according to the American Medical Association.

"We do hope something can be done to stem this tide of cuts," said Dr. Yank Coble, AMA president.

Lawmakers on both sides have said they want to address the doctor payment problem, but Congress was unable to reach agreement before adjourning for the year.

The Medicare agency is increasing payment for some immunizations, including flu shots. The cost will go from $3.98 to $7.26, an amount the government said more appropriately reflects the resources used to administer flu shots.

The payment changes are being published in the Dec. 31 Federal Register but do not take effect until March 1, 2003.

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