January 24, 2004
The payment increases were included in a final rule with comment period released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Dec. 31st. The changes were the result of the new Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 that was signed into law by the President on Dec. 8th. Quoting the news release from Murkowski's office, "In that act, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens won approval for an amendment that provided for a significant hike in Alaska doctor fees."
Murkowski said that Alaska seniors in recent years have been increasingly unable to access physicians because the Medicare reimbursement rate to Alaska physicians for services covered only about 37 percent of a physician's actual cost of treating patients. That resulted, just in Anchorage, in an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 seniors being unable to find doctors to treat them.
The Murkowski amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens, increased funding by $53 million over the next two years to allow higher rates and thus the likelihood that doctors will resume accepting seniors as patients.
"Besides the prescription drug benefit, one of the biggest benefits from the Medicare reform bill is that it funds a sufficient increase in fees so that Alaskans should now have the ability to see doctors outside of emergency rooms. For too long the Medicare fee schedule did not take into account the higher cost for physicians to offer quality health care in Alaska. The new law is helping to change that," said Senator Murkowski.
The final fee schedule, which went into effect for bills submitted after Jan. 1st, provides for an average increase of 1.5 percent in Medicare funding nationwide, replacing an announced reduction of 4.5 percent that would have occurred under the previous fee formula. In Alaska, however, the new law additionally boosts reimbursement rates for the roughly 7,000 services that doctors perform - Alaska physicians getting repayment fee schedules that should be 167 percent of the national unadjusted rate. The increase compensates doctors for the first time for the significantly higher cost of performing health care in the state. That is easing the doctor access shortage for senior citizens, Murkowski said.
Source of News Release: