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Begich Supports ‘Doc Fix’ for Medicare and TRICARE

Builds on Record of Standing Up for Alaska Seniors and Military

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today supported a one-year extension of Medicare and TRICARE reimbursement rates as the Senate forged a bipartisan agreement to avert scheduled payment cuts to doctors and other providers who treat seniors and military personnel, retirees and their families.

"Doctors and their patients no longer have to wonder from month-to-month whether the rug will be pulled out from under them," Begich said. "We still need a permanent fix - and I'll keep working for that - but this extension provides much-needed certainty for the coming year."

The Senate by unanimous consent today approved the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010. The biggest provision by far is the physician payment update, which extends current Medicare and TRICARE reimbursement rates through December 2011, at a cost of $14.9 billion over 10 years. Without the vote, the current Sustained Growth Rate (SGR) payment formula would have cut reimbursements by 25 percent beginning on Jan. 1, 2011.

Besides averting the cut, the fix also extends a 2.2 percent payment increase approved in June.  Another provision includes an extension to make sure patients have continued access to medically necessary physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology services.

Also, the Special Diabetes Program, which funds research for Type 1 diabetes and treatment and prevention initiatives for American Indians and Alaska Natives, is extended for two years under the package. Begich said today's early reauthorization is critical to make sure important research continues without interruption.

The package is fully paid for through a change in the so-called "true-up" provision of the health reform law. Americans who qualify for income-based subsidies for health insurance will be asked to pay back a bigger share if their income increases.  This policy does not change the tax credits for which people are eligible, but instead changes the way people pay back overpayments.   The change will raise $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Today's one-year "doc fix" vote is the latest of several actions by Sen.  Begich to address the problem of access to Medicare by Alaska's seniors and TRICARE by Alaska's military members and retirees, especially basic primary care services. For example:

·         Sen. Begich was one of five sponsors of S. 1776, the Medicare Physician Fairness Act, which would have ended the current flawed reimbursement formula. That bill failed to move forward when all Senate Republicans and several Democrats voted against it.

·         Sen. Begich supported the new health reform law, which gives Medicare primary care doctors and surgeons a 10 percent payment bonus and increases funding by $11 billion for community health centers such as the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, where a growing number of Medicare patients are expected get their basic health care. All Senate Republicans voted against the bill.

·         Health reform passed with several Begich amendments improving Medicare and primary care in Alaska.  These include increased loan forgiveness for National Health Service Corps doctors who provide primary care, a provision allowing states to supplement payments to primary care doctors, more Medicare funding for mid-size hospitals, and creation of a federal task force that has recommended a new payment structure for Alaska doctors reimbursed by federal agencies (which are the main source of health care for more than half of all Alaskans).  All Senate Republicans voted against these provisions.

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