Caring Currents

Medicare Reimbursement Mess Fixed -- For Now

Last updated: Jul 11, 2008

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Medicare recipients can breathe a sigh of relief this week: Congress finally resolved a mess that was prompting some doctors to drop Medicare patients.

To recap: Because of an outdated Medicare rule, reimbursements from the government to doctors who accept Medicare were cut by almost 11 percent on July 1. Earlier this summer, Congress went on vacation without passing a required fix, amid squabbles about how the physician reimbursements would be covered by the budget.

Meanwhile, some doctors refused to see their Medicare patients until the reimbursement problem was fixed, leaving some seniors without access to their health insurance or their doctors.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats were finally able to pass a fix -- although President Bush has indicated he plans to veto the bill. It's unclear whether Democrats will be able to hold together a veto-proof majority.

In the meantime, what does this mean for your loved ones if they're Medicare recipients? First, this problem isn't going away. Because of the way the law is written, Congress has to agree to update the doctor reimbursement formula each year, which means until lasting Medicare or health reform is passed, Medicare recipients will likely face the same mess next year.

And if your parents or other family members are on Medicare and saw their doctor before the fix was passed but after the old reimbursement rate expired on July 1? Claims always take between 15 and 30 days to process, so they should be fine even if they saw a doctor between July 1 and July 9. In this case, thank goodness for government ineffiency.