This year’s April date is no joke, to be sure. That’s because April 1 marks the day Medicare will start paying doctors less for treating beneficiaries under an automatic budget-cutting provision that took effect March 1, as reported in the American Medical Association’s amednews on March 11.

According to the article: “Washington Physicians caring for Medicare patients said their practices will find keeping up with government mandates and the increasing demand for services more difficult once a 2% rate cut hits starting April 1.

“The consequences of Congress and the White House failing to strike a deal to prevent spending reductions throughout the federal government under the process known as sequestration have yet to be felt by physicians directly. But the American Medical Association and other organized medicine groups said the cuts will become evident soon, squeezing practices’ margins and interfering with needed reforms to improve the health care system.

For physicians, the struggle for adequate pay for Medicare services has been an ongoing battle. The flawed Medicare pay system has increased doctors’ rates by only 4% since 2001, even though the cost of operating a practice has risen by more than 20%, said AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD. The 2% cut only will widen that gap and cause problems that go beyond the pocketbook.

“At the same time that Medicare physician payment rates have been frozen, physicians need to make investments in their practices to help design, lead and adopt new models of care delivery that can increase quality and reduce costs now and in the future,” Dr. Lazarus said. “Further cuts are counterproductive and stifle important progress while placing an unsustainable burden on physician practices.”

Brace yourselves and hang on, because this is not an isolated incident, nor the last you’ll experience on your thrill ride through the choppy government reimbursement waters.

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