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Washington Watch

Fix for Doctor Pay Rates Is Hailed

Jan. 1 Medicare payment reduction avoided

After AARP members dispatched more than 100,000 letters and e-mails to their Washington representatives, Congress approved, in December, a one-year freeze on Medicare physician payments, thus avoiding a 25 percent rate reduction scheduled for Jan. 1. The prospect of the large rate cut had again raised the possibility that more doctors would turn away a number of Medicare's 46 million patients. And that made many older patients nervous.

AARP CEO A. Barry Rand thanked Congress for the vote, especially the bipartisan support the measure received. "We're encouraged that lawmakers worked across the aisle to find this yearlong, bipartisan solution, but their work cannot stop now," he said.

Physician groups also hailed the one-year, $19 billion deal. "Stopping the steep 25 percent Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," said Cecil B. Wilson, president of the American Medical Association. The first boomers are turning 65 this year, "adding urgency to the need for a long-term solution before this demographic tsunami swamps the Medicare program," he said.

"Seniors and the doctors who care for them deserve the stability of a Medicare system that does not require Band-Aid fixes each year," Rand said. "We look forward to working with the new Congress to put an end to the annual patches and give seniors the peace of mind they deserve."

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