Doctors Say Medicare Cuts Would Be Devastating

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(Host) Congress is taking steps to avoid major cuts in Medicare payments to health care providers.

The Vermont Medical Society says that’s good news because the cuts would have been devastating to doctors across the state and would have most likely forced some private practice physicians out of business.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) If Congress fails to act during the lame duck session, Medicare payments to providers will be cut by 25 percent beginning on January first.

The Senate has given its strong support to a bill delaying the cuts for a year and the House is expected to consider the legislation soon.

Paul Harrington is the executive director of the Vermont Medical Society. He says the delay is good news for the state’s health care community:

(Harrington) "The impact would have been devastating. Medicare currently pays significantly less than Blue Cross or the other commercial payers so to have a further 25% cut in their reimbursement would have made it very difficult for Vermont physicians particularly those in private practice to stay in business."

(Kinzel) If the cuts had been put into place, Harrington says it’s likely that many doctors would have stopped accepting additional Medicare patients:

(Harrington) "They may have had to limit the new patients simply to they need to get enough income to stay in business pay their staff and so it would have been a very difficult situation."

(Kinzel) Robert Tortolani is family physician in Brattleboro who’s been in private practice for almost 40 years. 

Because he has a large number of Medicare patients, he says the cuts would have been very hard to deal with.

(Tortolani) "I have an older population of patients and I would be very severely affected financially by that kind of cut would it would do would be to put a lot more stress on my practice financially."

(Kinzel) And Tortolani wants Congress to pass a long term solution to this issue.

(Tortolani) "We feel that this is something that needs to be resolved and not hang over the heads of ourselves and our patients continuously it’s a problem that they have not been willing to fix and we don’t want this to continue we just hope and pray that they have the courage to resolve this so that we don’t have to keep worrying about this."

(Kinzel) Some members of Congress argue that the cuts will encourage doctors to operate their practices in a more cost effective manner.  Tortolani bristles at this suggestion.

(Tortolani) "I would invite one of these people saying that to come into my practice for a day and to see how efficient I am I’m very efficient quite honestly I’m as efficient as I can possibly be I’ve been working on it for 43 years to be efficient."

(Kinzel) The legislation has a price tag of $19 billion and it’s paid for by making some fee changes to the health care reform law that passed Congress earlier this year.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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