Congress introduces fix to address ‘economic sword hanging over physician practices’

Update: The House passed the spending bill on Tuesday night in a 359 to 57 vote, but the Senate has not yet indicated whether it will take up the legislation, according to published reports. 

Congress this week introduced a remedy to address an ongoing source of stress for physician practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The continuing resolution, unveiled by House Democrats Monday, would extend funding for the federal government through Dec. 11. It includes “much-needed relief” for physician practices, the American Medical Association noted, postponing recoupment of advanced Medicare payments aimed at easing cash flow issues.

The AMA and other physician groups have lobbied hard against what they’ve said are onerous loan terms and praised the proposed fix after the announcement.

“Upon passage of the continuing resolution, patients should know that their physician is more likely to weather the pandemic’s economic challenges. Congress recognized the danger, and rightfully modified the program so physicians can keep seeing patients,” AMA President Susan Bailey, MD, said in a statement.

Original loan terms stated that practices would have 120 days from the issuance of funds to pay back the Medicare loans. The House’s update would extend that period to 365 days, with the final balance due by September 2022. It would also reduce the per-claim recoupment amount from 100% in the first 11 months down to 25%. The interest rate would also drop from 10.25% down to 4%, the AMA noted.

Bailey and colleagues said they have heard significant concerns from the physician community about the loan terms and docs’ ability to make payments in while patient volumes are still down.

“Members of Congress and the administration have settled on a bipartisan response to the economic sword hanging over physician practices. This relief will be felt across the country as physicians will be able to continue providing healthcare during the pandemic,” she added.

In a Sept. 21 announcement, the House Committee on Appropriations said it hopes to vote on the continuing resolution this week. You can read the full legislation here and a shorter summary here.