July 2, 2010
Dr. Edward Portnay
1177 Summer St
Stamford, Connecticut 06905
Dear Dr. Portnay:
Thank you for contacting me regarding federal payments to physicians participating in the Medicare program. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
I share your concern about this important issue. Throughout my career, I have been proud to sponsor and support many bills to help address the nation's critical health care needs and have supported efforts to provide high-quality, affordable health care to all Americans, including seniors. In my view, no senior should be forced to skip doses of medication, go without a visit to their doctor, or make the untenable choice of paying for necessary health care or buying groceries and other necessities. As you know, Medicare serves as the foundation of our nation's health care system for more than 44 million Americans, and I will continue to fight for programs such as Medicare that serve to provide for the health and welfare of America's seniors.
I have long fought to prevent scheduled physician payment cuts. In my view, these cuts could harm Medicare recipients by leading fewer doctors to accept Medicare beneficiaries as patients. Cuts in payments to physicians treating Medicare beneficiaries have the ability to undermine health care for seniors, and I will oppose any measure that harms our nation's seniors. You may know that I was a cosponsor of the Medicare Physician Payment Fairness Act of 2001, which would have halted the adverse Medicare physician payment update that went into effect January 1, 2002. This 5.4 percent reduction in physician payments would have negatively impacted the ability of approximately one million physicians and other health care professionals to continue to provide valuable care to the nation's Medicare beneficiaries.
I am pleased to tell you that in 2008, the Senate passed H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008. This legislation eliminated the reduction in physician payments until 2010, and instead provided a 1.1 percent update in Medicare physician payments for 2009. This bill also extended and improved low-income assistance programs, added new preventive benefits to the Medicare program, and reduced beneficiary out of pocket costs for mental health care. H.R. 6331 also protected access to therapy services by extending the exceptions process to limits on therapy visits in nursing homes, postpones the Durable Medical Equipment competitive bidding program, and eliminates the clinical laboratory competitive bidding program. I am a proud supporter of this bill and am pleased to tell you that it was passed into law, overriding the President's veto, on July 15, 2008.
As you may know, last fall Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Medicare Physician Fairness Act, Senate bill 1776. S. 1776, would have averted a scheduled 21 percent cut in physician reimbursement rates for 2010 and would have eliminated the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that has caused most of the cuts over the last decade. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to bring debate on the bill to a close as the first step in order to get the bill passed, but while I voted for the measure, with a sixty vote threshold, it was defeated by a vote of 47-53.
It was my hope that a fix of the SGR would have been included in the comprehensive health care reform bill, but it was unable to garner enough support to be included. You may be pleased to know that on June 25th, President Obama signed H.R. 3962, the Preservation of Access to Care for Medicare Beneficiaries and Pension Relief Act, into law. This measure, which I supported, retroactively eliminates the rate cut that went into effect on June 1st, and provides a 2.2 percent rate increase through November 30th, 2010. H.R. 3962 will serve as a patch until a long term fix can be worked out.
You and I agree on the importance of passing additional comprehensive Medicare readjustment legislation that addresses the needs of all health care providers, including physicians, in the future. Please be assured that I remain committed to continue to work to permanently eliminate any cuts in payments to doctors who care for our nation's Medicare beneficiaries. In the meantime, please know that I remain committed to strengthening the federal government's support for all Medicare beneficiaries.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. If you would like to stay in touch with me on this and other issues of importance, please visit my website at http://dodd.senate.gov and subscribe to receive my regular e-mail issue alerts. Please do not hesitate to contact me again if I can be of assistance to you in any way.
CHRISTOPHER J. DODD
United States Senator
NOTE: This message has been sent using my e-mail reply system. Please do not hit "reply" to respond to this message. If you would like to submit further comments to me, please use the e-mail form on my web page at http://dodd.senate.gov/webmail/index.html.