December 22, 2011
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The congressional deadlock over extending payroll tax cuts – sparked by a revolt of House Tea Party Republicans – will hurt seniors on Medicare unless a resolution is reached quickly. Seniors with incomes below $15,000 per year are at risk of losing access to critical medical services through the Qualified Individual (QI) program. The program, which is set to expire on December 31, pays for Medicare Part B premiums that cover physician and other outpatient services, as well as the low income subsidy for Part D prescription drug coverage. The QI benefit represents an average savings of $5,199 per year for these low-income seniors. Without an extension of the program by Congress, states would have the right to terminate benefits on January 1.
Also caught in the crossfire are reimbursements to nearly 650,000 doctors who care for Medicare patients. According to the Associated Press, Medicare sent an alert to doctors to say that they will hold up paying claims for the first 10 business days of the new year, but without congressional action it would then be forced to implement a 27.4 percent cut in reimbursement rates, which may prompt physicians to refuse to see Medicare patients.