In the “eleventh hour”, the Senate approved the same proposal that it had rejected the day before to delay the 21.3% slashing of Medicare reimbursement fees along with 2.2% payment increases.  Albeit, the reprieve is only for 6 months and brokered by  Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services had held up physician claims for the month of June, hoping that Congress would stop the reduction retroactively.

The House of Representatives must still pass the measure.  The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services acknowledges that because many health facilities and physician offices rely on Medicare for 30% of their reimbursements, Medicare’s delayed processing the uncertainty about the fee cuts and delayed processing of Medicare claims may have created cash-flow problems.

“The reduction in payments, even if temporary, creates havoc for practices,” the American College of Physicians said in a statement. “The situation is unacceptable and the frustration and anger is understandable.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) says the “Senate fiddles as Medicare burns,” and “A new patient-centered category of Medicare payment will allow seniors to use their Medicare benefit fully for the healthcare they need,” said David O. Barbe, MD, an AMA trustee.

A survey of 9000 members revealed that 17% of physicians — and 31% of primary care ventolin evohaler order physicians — would limit the number of Medicare patients they see because rates are too low. AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD, said, “Congress is playing Russian roulette with seniors’ healthcare. Congress has finally taken its game of brinkmanship too far, as the steep 21% cut is now in effect, and physicians will be forced to make difficult practice changes to keep their practice doors open.”

According to the AMA’s survey, due to the 2  reductions in March and April, 39% of physicians delayed payments for supplies, rent, or other expenses; 17% took out a loan or line of credit to pay bills; and 17% held up paychecks or even furloughed or laid off employees, according to the association’s survey.

Such cutbacks make it less likely that medical practices will invest in health information technology and other improvements that policymakers consider vital to healthcare reform, the AMA notes.

More importantly,despite the current reprieve, many practices are reevaluating the acceptance of new patients covered by Medicare and whether to drop it completely, thereby punishing seniors further because they cannot afford to remain vulnerable,  hold their breath and pray that legislation will go their way.  So, this may be the start of the end or the death knoll for Medicare coverage as we know it.