The Takeaway: With Congress Home For The Holidays, Docs Face Steep Medicare Pay Cut

Medicare Cuts Could Hit Jan. 18: In a few weeks, physicians, therapists and nurse practitioners could see a steep cut in their Medicare reimbursement rates-almost 30 percent. Experts thought Congress would pass a temporary ‘doc fix to stop this from happening, like in years past. But with the end of 2011 fast approaching-and lawmakers already having left Washington for the holidays-that’s looking like less and less of a possibility.

Here’s the deal: If Congress doesn’t pass a payroll tax cut extension bill by Jan. 1, payroll taxes will go up for 160 million workers, almost 2 million people could lose unemployment benefits and doctors could see a 27.4 percent pay cut from Medicare. On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan (and Obama-approved) two-month measure-in addition to extending the payroll tax cut, it contained a provision waiving the scheduled cut in physicians’ Medicare pay-kicked it to the House of Representatives, then went home for the holidays.

But the House rejected the measure yesterday. The (mostly Republican) caucus voting against it said they hope to work out a full-year renewal of the payroll tax cut, not just a two-month stopgap measure. Which sounds sort of reasonable, right? Until you consider that Congress must pass such a bill before Jan. 1, the House’s rejection kicks the bill back to the Senate, and Senators have already left D.C.!

So where does this leave us? No one’s quite sure.

Today’s vote calls into question whether millions of seniors in Medicare will continue to be able to get the care that they need,” said AARP Senior Vice President Joyce Rogers, noting that more physicians may choose to no longer take Medicare patients if the reimbursement cut goes into effect.

Medicare told doctors it will hold claims for the first 10 business days of 2012, to see if Congress acts early in the new year. During a similar standoff in 2010, Medicare was able to hold physician claims for more than 20 days, but Medicare deputy administrator Jonathan Blum told The Associated Press that the system can’t hold off that long again, because a backlog of more than a couple of weeks could cause Medicare’s computers to crash. “(Medicare) came very close operationally to crashing our system back in 2010,” Blum said . “From a stewardship perspective, that is something we feel we can never repeat again.”

I Get Buy With A Little Help … With down payment requirements hovering around 20 percent, getting home-buying assistance from family members is becoming more common, Fox Business reports. A recent national survey showed more boomers and older adults helping their children and grandchildren become homeowners.

One in five have already given or loaned money or cosigned a loan to help a younger family member buy a home, and one in 10 say they “definitely” plan to provide financial support for a down-payment.

“A lot of baby boomers want to see their children take advantage of an inheritance while they are still alive,” financial counselor Mike DiMaio said.

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