June 3, 2010 / 9:36 PM / 9 years ago

Doctors' group turns up heat on Medicare payments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The American Medical Association turned up the heat on the U.S. Congress on Thursday for failing to stop a 21 percent Medicare pay cut for doctors treating elderly patients.

The doctors group said it launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign criticizing the U.S. Senate for going on a week-long Memorial Day break before acting on a bill that would have postponed the pay cut that went into effect on June 1.

“The AMA will not sit silent while the Senate fails to fulfill its obligation to seniors and the baby boomers who begin to enter the program in just six months when the first wave turns 65,” AMA President James Rohack said during a telephone news conference.

Before Congress left town, the House of Representative voted to postponed the pay cut.

But the Medicare pay issue has gotten caught up in Senate wrangling over budget deficits and the cost of an economic package that would extend jobless benefits and tax breaks aimed at stimulating the economy.

The doctors’ group has been lobbying for a permanent change in the payment formula that they say is outdated and would have allowed steep cuts in Medicare payments if it had not been for repeated action by Congress to delay them.

Lawmakers for years have avoided a more permanent fix, which would cost about $250 billion over a decade, because of its impact on the long-term budget outlook.

Congress is expected to retroactively restore Medicare payments when it gets back next week.

Nevertheless, Rohack said the uncertainty is forcing some doctors to stop taking on new Medicare patients. The pay cuts also affects the TRICARE health program for military families because it uses the Medicare payment formula.

“It’s sad and ironic that the senators raced home to celebrate Memorial day without first voting to preserve healthcare for active duty military members, retirees and their families,” Rohack said.

The ads will appear on television, newspapers and radio throughout the country, he said.

Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Philip Barbara

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