Internal Medicine Associates urges clients to pressure lawmakers

An expected 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates will go into effect Monday unless the U.S. Senate reverses it early this week.

If that doesn’t happen, though, at least one Grand Junction doctor’s office already is warning Medicare patients they may have to seek health care elsewhere, because it may go out of business as a result.

The cut would have been delayed already if a Republican senator from Kentucky had not blocked a measure that would have delayed it for at least a month, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Friday.

The Colorado Democrat said that before the filibuster, the Senate was poised to mirror a vote late Thursday in the U.S. House, which approved a one-month delay of the planned cut.

Instead, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning held a one-man filibuster that prevented a vote, saying on the Senate floor that he opposed ending the cut without knowing how it would be funded.

“Preventing Medicare cuts is, of course, critically important,” Udall said. “Unfortunately, a lone Republican senator filibustered Congress’ attempt to fix this problem. This senator also prevented Congress from fixing a host of other important expiring programs, such as providing health insurance to people who’ve lost their jobs.”

The delay in the Medicare cut was part of a larger measure that also included extending unemployment and COBRA health insurance benefits to laid-off workers.

Eric Wortman, spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said he fully expects the Senate eventually will go along with the House bill, adding it will give Congress more time to come up with a permanent fix.

“I think most folks are committed to that,” Wortman said. “We’re pretty confident it will be fixed for the year.”

In anticipation of the possible Medicare cut, and to help spur Congress to prevent it, Internal Medicine Associates of Grand Junction sent its patients a letter last week, asking them to help by calling Udall, Salazar and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The doctors told patients they might be forced to stop accepting some patients at their clinic, and they urged them to put pressure on lawmakers to fight it.

Dr. Donald Maier, one of six physicians who work at the clinic, said this is the largest potential cut in reimbursement rates he’s seen in years.

If it goes through, his clinic may be forced to shut down because up to 70 percent of its nearly 8,500 patients are on some form of Medicare and one-third are covered entirely through Medicare, he said.

“We’re approaching 70 percent of our costs in overhead, so if you cut 20 percent of a large portion of our payments, we could potentially have to close our doors,” Maier said.

“We don’t want to be alarmists, but this is a large part of our business. Each year, this is going to continue to go up unless they fix it, and if it doesn’t get fixed by 2016, it’s a 40 percent cut.”


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