SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Congress Overrides Veto and Passes Permanent
Medicare Fix for Alaska Into Law


July 16, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­ Congress voted Tuesday to override President Bush's veto of the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act, which contains a permanent Medicare reimbursement fix for Alaska authored by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

"Medicare payments in Alaska were woefully inadequate and it made seniors' access to care almost impossible," said Senator Stevens. "The provision that I secured will raise payments to physicians in Alaska by about 35 percent. This increase will help open the door to doctors' offices for seniors across the state."

"Senator Stevens and I worked hard to get the Alaska reimbursement fix included in the legislation, which provides for a permanent 35 percent increase in Medicare reimbursement rates for Alaska's medical providers," said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "This will bring the Alaska Medicare and Medicaid rates to the same level, and will significantly increase access to primary care providers for all of Alaska's Medicare beneficiaries. I am pleased this legislation has now become law. Alaska's higher costs of practicing medicine made this fix critically important for patients and providers in our state. I am proud to have played a part in passage of this crucial legislation."

Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) said, "Without the permanent fix in this bill, doctors would continue to be reimbursed at less than half the actual costs associated with Medicare visits and seniors would be in real danger of losing accessible health care." Young said, "I don't like to vote against the President, but I have to on this vote; he is wrong to veto this bill. This is one of the best health care bills we've ever passed for Alaska and it makes me extremely proud to be a part of it. The veto override still needs to go through the Senate, and I look forward to it succeeding there. Having this bill signed into law is good for the future of Alaskan elders."

The legislation, which is now law, will provide for an approximate 35 percent increase in Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians in Alaska effective January 1, 2009. It increases the work component of the Medicare Geographic Practice Cost Index, bringing Alaska Medicare payments for primary care above the rates paid by Alaska's Medicaid program. Payments for other physician services under the new system should also increase to at least as high as Alaska's Medicaid rates and possibly more.

As part of the Medicare Prescription Drug legislation in 2004, Senator Stevens authored a provision that raised rates for Alaska physicians under Medicare by about 40 percent. That provision was in effect from January 2005 until the beginning of 2007, but the Senate chose not to extend that program further.

Senator Stevens was also successful in urging the Veterans Administration (VA) and Department of Defense to adopt modifications to the Medicare physician payment system for their beneficiaries in Alaska. Several years ago, the VA conducted a study of access to care for Alaska veterans using private physicians. As a result of that study, the VA adopted an Alaska-specific physician payment system that pays doctors seeing veterans significantly more than Medicare does.

In January 2007, the Department of Defense (DoD) was faced with a similar access to care problem for Alaska TRICARE beneficiaries. At the urging of Senator Stevens, DoD instituted a three-year pilot program in Alaska that pays physicians about 35 percent more than Medicare to see its beneficiaries. TRICARE bases its payments on Medicare physician payment rates.



Source of News:

Office of Sen. Ted Stevens

Office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Office of Rep. Don Young


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska