Yesterday afternoon, December 8, 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 376 to 45 to approve H.R.6111. The most important aspect of the bill for emergency physicians is the freeze (zero percent update) on Medicare physician payments for 2007. This forestalls the proposed five percent cut scheduled to begin January 1, 2007. The bill also contains provisions affecting energy, trade, and taxes. As of the time of this writing (the early morning hours of December 9th) the Senate was expected to approve this legislation prior to the adjournment of the 109th Congress today.
Earlier this year, ACEP succeeded in negotiating gains for emergency physicians in the Medicare five year review process. Now, emergency physicians will receive a late Christmas present in the form of an average seven percent increase in Medicare payments.
If this story sounds familiar, it is. Every year, physicians struggle with convincing Congress not to go ahead with scheduled Medicare cuts. For the past several years, physicians have been successful in averting the cuts. Then, in the second breath, the one after the sigh of relief, reality descends. The cuts are cumulative, so that next year, physicians will face this year’s deferred five percent cut plus next year’s five percent cut.
It seems a great waste of time and talent to lobby Congress every year to pay the same for providing the same services. That time and talent belongs to our patients, our families, and our communities. As the 110th Congress convenes in January, our goal should be to fix the formula that causes this yearly struggle, and refocus on the things that matter.