Feds: Senate has two days to act, or the docs get it

House members spent a lot of time last week congratulating themselves for passing a permanent "doc fix" -- that is, an end to the yearly ritual of readjusting the rates Medicare pays to health care providers in order to avoid drastic cuts that could cause them to stop treating elderly patients.

One problem: The "doc fix" isn't actually fixed. While the House overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan deal that permanently changed the formula ahead of the April 1 deadline while also reauthorizing key health programs supported by Democrats, the Senate did not act on the House bill after completing budget votes in the wee hours Friday morning -- postponing action until senators return from recess on April 13.

Now the federal agency that administers Medicare is warning doctors that if the deal isn't passed by April 15, they will face a 21 percent cut in payments for service they've already rendered to Medicare patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it "must take steps to implement the negative update" even if Congress is certain to pass the bill. "We are working to limit any impact to Medicare providers and beneficiaries as much as possible," an e-mail to providers said.

If the Senate fails to pass the House bill immediately, or if it amends the bill, thus delaying final passage, the agency will reprocess post-April 1 claims that were paid at the lower rate, an official said.

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