Holiday surprise: Lame-duck Congress to bring Medicare cuts

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With only weeks left before automatic Medicare cuts start, providers this week urged Congress to delay the impending fiscal cliff. Unless Congress comes to an agreement, the "doc fix" will expire and trigger a near 29 percent decrease in Medicare payments, starting in the New Year.

Under sequestration, hospitals would absorb the biggest share of cuts, amounting to about $5.8 billion, Kaiser Health News reported.

Providers have blasted the temporary fixes that seem to reoccur during the holidays.

In a letter to Congress this week, the American Hospital Association (AHA) pointed to major concerns: outpatient payment reductions, cuts in inpatient rates through retrospective coding adjustments, lower assistance for "bad debt," and reductions in Medicaid assessments.

"Hospitals' ability to maintain the kind of access to care their patients and communities expect is threatened by repeated ratcheting of payments for Medicare and Medicaid hospital services," AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack said Tuesday. "Additional cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospital services would mean longer wait times for care, fewer doctors, nurses and other caregivers, and less patient access to the latest treatments and technology."

Voters generally oppose Medicare reductions to providers, with 71 percent of Americans who voted in the presidential election saying they reject cuts to hospitals, according to an AHA poll by Public Opinion Strategies this week.

Critics have lambasted closed-door talks regarding the healthcare fiscal cliff, Politico reported.

For more information:
- check out the Kaiser Health News article
- read the Politico article
- here's the AHA letter (.pdf)
- see the AHA voter poll (.pdf)

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