I recently sent a message to Senator Roger Wicker concerning the reduction in physician’s reimbursement schedule through Medicaid/Medicare. A part of the legislation being considered was independent billing for speech language pathologists under the same reimbursement processes as physicians. Although he makes no specific response to the concerns of speech language pathologists as practitioners independent of physicians, Senator Wicker is in support of maintaining the current level of reimbursement including the sustainable growth rate which will effect reimbursement rates for both speech language pathologists and audiologists. His response follows:
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June 27, 2008
Thank you for contacting me regarding cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement. I am glad to have the benefit of your views on this important issue.
I strongly oppose the cuts to physicians that Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula has imposed since 2002. I have consistently voted against these cuts and have cosponsored bipartisan legislation to scrap the SGR entirely. As you know, a 10.6% cut to physician reimbursement is scheduled to go into effect on July 1. Congress has considered several Medicare bills over the past few weeks.
Unfortunately, these comprehensive bills have not allowed for a simple up-or-down vote to stop the scheduled cuts or eliminate the SGR.
Instead, Senate Majority Leader Reid brought-up two bills for votes that include a range of other provisions, including some that hurt Mississippians. President Bush said he would veto both of these bills, which led to the bills stalling as senators worked to find a compromise that the President would sign.
The main point of contention in the two Medicare bills was related to the Medicare Advantage (MA) program. A provision inserted into both bills considered by the Senate would have limited the areas MA plans could participate in, disproportionately affecting rural beneficiaries and effectively gutting the program. President Bush indicated that if this provision were removed from the bills, he would sign them. While I have serious concerns about some aspects of the MA program including many of the plans’ billing and enrollment practices, I do not believe we should eliminate one of the only alternatives seniors have to government-run Medicare. Medicare Advantage needs reforms, but we should not shut-down a program that eighteen thousand Mississippi seniors rely on for health coverage.
This week, Senators Baucus and Grassley negotiated a bipartisan compromise bill that would have stopped the Medicare cuts from going forward. The President indicated he would sign the legislation, and it was widely supported in Congress. However, Senator Reid refused to allow the Senate to vote on this bill, choosing instead to bring up for a vote the non-consensus legislation that enjoyed much less support and is sure to be met by the President’s veto, taking up more time and getting us no closer to a solution. Senator Reid also refused
to allow a vote on a 30-day delay in the cuts, which would have given Congress more time to come to an agreement.
I am very disappointed that this important legislation was the subject of political stunts and election-year politics. The Senate will consider additional legislation after the Fourth of July to stop the cuts. I am working to make sure the upcoming legislation is a retroactive, bipartisan bill that can quickly be passed and signed by the President.
The Administration has announced that it will hold physician claims for ten days, giving Congress more time to come to compromise before cuts go into effect.
Be assured I will keep your views in mind as Congress considers this issue and legislation to reform SGR. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever assist you.
With best wishes, I am
Roger F. Wicker