February 2, 2006

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House of Representatives Passes Budget Reconciliation Agreement Halting 4.4% Reduction in 2006 Medicare payments
On yesterday, Feb. 1, the House of Representatives voted to approve the amended Budget Reconciliation Agreement and the President is expected to sign the bill today. The legislation includes a 1-year freeze in Medicare physician payment rates at 2005 levels, which will stop the 4.4% reduction in 2006 payment rates that went into effect Jan. 1, 2006.
The bill passed 216 to 214. Maine Congressmen Tom Allen and Mike Michaud voted against the bill, as did most Democrats, for reasons unrelated to the physician payment issue.

As previously noted in Maine Medicine Weekly Update,  CMS had previously announced that it will automatically reprocess claims filed with dates of service between Jan. 1, 2006 and the date of the President's signature on the new law.  Physicians will not need to resubmit claims already processed with the 4.4% reduction.  A single check will be sent to each provider for the difference between the two amounts over a period of time not expected to exceed 5 months.

CMS is also offering a second enrollment period for those physicians wishing to alter their participation status in Medicare.  The new period will last an additional 45 days.  Should a physician decide to revise his or her participation election during the new enrollment period, the new election will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006.

Congratulations to the AMA, the national specialty societies and all others who were involved in getting this task accomplished.  While a freeze in 2005 rates does not keep pace with the inflationary costs of providing care, it is better than a cut.

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