Almost lost in the midterm election hoopla is the fact that Congress will still have to make decisions this year on everything from jobless benefit extensions to tax cuts. In addition, many doctors and older adults are anxiously waiting for lawmakers to address the scheduled pay cuts to Medicare doctors.
If no action is taken, Medicare reimbursements to physicians could drop at least 25 percent. The 1997 Balanced Budget Act included a formula to try to keep costs in check, but Congress has waived cutbacks and increased payments every year.
The American Medical Association has urged passage of a 13-month patch to the program, just to get the issue off the table while the new Congress settles in. What's more likely is that lawmakers will stave off the cuts for a few months until the new Republican-led House can deal with the issue.
The AMA says that without a fix, some doctors will stop taking Medicare patients.
Meanwhile, the series of short-term fixes to date "creates a dangerous atmosphere for seniors and their doctors," says AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. "Finding a physician is already a challenge for older Americans."