Congress on Clock for Fix with Medicare Payments to Doctors Set to Expire April 1

Full payments for doctors who treat Medicare patients run out on April 1, but the Obama administration has a two-week grace period before it would actually have to begin cutting payments, giving Congress a short window next month to fix the problem before earning the ire of physicians nationwide.

The House has acted, passing a bill that would permanently ensure full payments. But senators skipped town early Friday morning for a two-week spring break without taking action on the bill, leaving the doctors in limbo.

“Unfortunately, there really isn’t much we can do if things go beyond the 14th,” the American Medical Association said in a statement to The Washington Times. “The Senate has to pass the bill by then or the 21-percent cut will go into effect.”

At stake is what’s known in Capitol-speak as the “doc fix” — a frequent patch to a 1997 law that was supposed to rein in Medicare costs by cutting payments to doctors if they grew too quickly. The cuts have never been allowed to take effect though, as Congress feared doctors would instead dump Medicare patients, causing a health crisis among seniors.