New law includes physician update fix through February 2012

On Friday, December 23, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (TPTCCA). This new law prevents a scheduled payment cut for physicians and other practitioners who treat Medicare patients from taking effect immediately. While the negative update for the 2012 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule is now scheduled to take effect on March 1, 2012, the administration remains strongly opposed to letting this cut take effect. As he has repeatedly made clear, President Obama is committed to a permanent solution to eliminating the sustainable growth rate’s cut. We will continue to work with Congress to achieve this goal.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also recently implemented several important changes for Medicare providers and beneficiaries, and we would like to remind physicians and practitioners of some of these key changes for 2012. For many of your patients, Medicare costs will go down. Medicare cost-sharing for Part B services will decline in some cases and, for the first time, the Part B deductible will decrease, by $22, to $140.

Additionally, health care professionals will be paid more to provide certain important services for people with Medicare. CMS has increased the payment amount for the initial and annual wellness visit — which has no cost sharing for patients — to account for the introduction of health risk assessment (HRA). CMS believes it is important to balance the comprehensiveness of the HRA with the potential burden on patients and health professional time constraints. As such, in 2012, CMS will allow for variation in the content of the HRA.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program has also been enhanced for 2012, with the coverage gap being further reduced as it is phased-out over the next several years. These improvements to the drug benefit from the Affordable Care Act have already saved millions of seniors nearly $2 billion.

CMS wishes to remind physicians and practitioners about the Primary Care Incentive Program. Again in 2012, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and physician assistants may be eligible to receive an incentive payment equal to 10 percent of their allowed charges for primary care services under Medicare Part B. This incentive is paid in addition to any physician incentive payments for services furnished in Health Professional Shortage Areas. Please remember that if a practitioner has reassigned his or her benefits to another entity, such as a group practice, Medicare will pay that entity and not the individual practitioner.