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Medical Groups Join Push for Payroll Bill

As pressure mounts on House Republicans to return from recess to resolve a standoff over the payroll tax, doctors groups also have cranked up their lobbying efforts to persuade Members to tackle one of their priorities.

The House left town without passing the Senate-approved temporary extension of the payroll tax cut. A fix to Medicare reimbursement rates was packaged in with the payroll tax bill, and now doctors warn that they and their patients face disruptions in January if the House doesn’t follow the Senate’s lead.

The American Medical Association and specialty doctor groups such the American College of Cardiology are reaching out to Members on their home turf and asking them to return to Washington pass the package, which includes their “doc fix.”

“Since Members have gone home, we’re asking our members to contact the Members of Congress in their districts to tell them how distributive this is,” said Patrick Hope, director of legislative policy with the ACC. “It’s just really terrible and unacceptable that we get taken to the brink year after year.”

AMA President Dr. Peter W. Carmel said in a written statement to Roll Call that “the drastic cut of 27 percent on January 1 to physicians who care for Medicare and TRICARE patients is untenable and must be stopped.”

He added in the statement: “The AMA has already generated over 380,000 contacts to Congress from physicians and patients on this critical issue in recent months. Patients and physicians are tired of the all too frequent exercise of short-term patches and the failure to enact a permanent solution, which both Democrats and Republicans say they support.”

Since 2002, Congress has passed regular temporary “fixes” to the Medicare reimbursement schedule. The matter has included plenty of legislative drama. In 2008, for example, the Senate took its July Fourth recess without making the fix and then returned to get a filibuster-proof 60 votes with the help of then-ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

“Both Democrats and Republicans — not a single one of them comes to this with clean hands. Politics gets in the way,” Hope said. “Patients get impacted, and this is just no way to conduct business.”

Doctors groups lobbied for a permanent fix as part of the health care reform law passed in 2009, but it did not make it into the final bill.

But that year’s health care debate caused a fissure between doctors and Republicans when such groups as the AMA endorsed the reform bill.

Hope said the current debate is not a doctors-vs.-GOP fight or retribution from the health care debate.

“This has been going on even before the Affordable Care Act was conceived,” he said. “It has nothing to do with that and everything to do with Congress not being able to do its job.”

Lobbyists for the doctors say that some medical practices work on tight budgets common to other small businesses and that if reimbursements are cut, doctors will have to take out loans in order to meet their payrolls and to keep paying their other bills.

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