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Doc fix drama once again

November 28, 2011

It’s time once again for physicians to panic over the expiration of the “doc fix.” In an annual ritual of federal budget insanity, doctors face a huge reduction in their Medicare reimbursement rates.

This year, the cut would be 27%. In 2010, the cut was 21%. But *usually* at the last minute, Congress passes another doc fix, delaying the reductions another year. This year’s doc fix expires on December 31st.

What is this strange ritual all about? Here’s an explanation from the story I did about the doc fix last year.

The problem started In 1997, when Congress passed a law to help control the cost of Medicare. The legislation said the Medicare payments doctors receive should grow no faster than the growth of the economy.

But that formula didn’t work, according to Amal Trivedi, a professor of Community Health at Brown University’s Medical School.

Since that time, health care inflation has far outpaced economic growth. Essentially every year since 2002, the congress has had to come back and find out a way to not go through with the payment cuts that were stipulated by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

That’s because the cuts would be difficult for doctors who depend on Medicare payments. So for years, again and again, congress has delayed its own rules

This last minute “fix” was especially stressful last year when Congress not only waited till the last minute, it let the fix expire. That meant for a few days, doctors did experience the pay cut temporarily, creating a paperwork nightmare.

Will Congress ever fix this problem for good? Count one more year that it hasn’t.

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