Senate may add 5 percent bonus to Medicare for primary care MDs

After years of talk about the growing shortage of primary care doctors, the Senate seems to be doing something--maybe not something huge, but something--to address the problem. As part of a package of healthcare proposals, the Senate Finance Committee is apparently looking at adding a 5 percent bonus to Medicare payments for primary care doctors, as well as general surgeons who practice in rural areas where few can be found.

The proposals, which are backed by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would also include paying doctors more who frequently exceed "national benchmarks" for quality of care. (Doctors who don't meet these standards would face financial penalties.)

Medicare would also pay extra to hospitals that provide exceptional care for heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and other costly conditions.

The question, political observers say, is how to pay for these bonuses. An outline from the Senate suggests that the money will have to come from cuts to other areas. The most controversial proposal for cutting spending would be to reduce payments for all other specialists under Medicare to pay for this increase.

For more details on these proposals:
- read this piece from The New York Times

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