Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) today signed on to cosponsor legislation to stop the recently scheduled 4.4 percent payment cut to physicians for Medicare reimbursements.  The federal Medicare system, which covers health care for the nation’s senior citizens, works by reimbursing doctors, hospitals, home health care, nursing homes – and in the case of the Medicare + Choice system, HMO’s – for the services they provide to Medicare recipients.

At the end of December, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its final Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2003, declaring that there will be a reimbursement rate cut of 4.4 percent for the coming year.  This reduction, on top of last year’s 5.4 percent cut, would have a devastating effect on physicians, other health care providers and patients across the country.  The legislation that Smith signed onto today, H.R. 41, will impose a one-year freeze on the physician’s fee schedule to protect Medicare patients’ access to medical care.

Washington state has been hit especially hard in the past by cuts to the Medicare program and many doctors are holding off on accepting new Medicare patients, withdrawing from the program or retiring.  Further cuts in the program will only exacerbate this problem.  The state already faces difficulties in keeping doctors and insurance companies in the program because of discrepancies in reimbursement rates from state to state, and deeper cuts in rates across the board do not bode well for the state’s Medicare system.  

“Our state’s problems with Medicare are bad enough as it is.  We simply can’t afford to see another cut in the reimbursement rates.  Already our doctors and hospitals are getting smaller reimbursements from the program than they should be and to add additional cuts will leave them with even fewer economic incentives for participating in Medicare.  It’s ludicrous,” said Smith.  

The estimated cost for the bill is around $1.5 billion.  Last night, the Senate approved a 1.6 percent across the board cut on the 11 remaining appropriations bills.  They plan to redirect that money into preserving the current Medicare reimbursement rate, along with shoring up a few other programs.

“We need a long-term solution to our Medicare problem,” continued Smith.  “With health care inflation rising quickly and baby boomers retiring, we’re looking at an enormous influx of seniors into the Medicare program while health care costs continue to grow.  The fact is that we need fundamental reform that focuses on healthy outcomes, gives seniors health care options, provides coverage for prescription drugs, and ensures the program is viable for future generations.”