Because of the payment cuts, Hoverman told ABC News, doctors "will not be able to recoup the difference as it will be too costly for us to go back and rebill the difference to patients... We will have no option but to start asking our Medicare patients to find a new primary care physician, which already is extremely difficult for patients to find."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, today hailed the passage of the measure as a "good example of bipartisanship" and "something both sides can feel good about," but doctors say they are unfairly caught in the middle of political wrangling between parties. Many blame both Republicans and Democrats for inaction.
"A lot of promises were made when Republicans controlled the three legislative branches, and nothing was done. Now with the Democrats the SGR is still an issue but they found the money for health care 'reform,'" said Randy Wexler, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University. "Physicians feel that the only ones left without a chair when the music stopped was us."
While applauding the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, today acknowledged the delays in the Senate and the frustration caused by them.
"Sometimes the Senate can be terribly disconcerting, aggravating, but that's the way the Senate is," he said. "I love the Senate. And every day that goes by, I understand for the times I'm aggravated and disconcerted, there are many -- the vast majority of the time I'm amazed at how we're able to get things done."
More than 43 million Americans over the age of 65 are on Medicare, one of the federal government's largest expenditures after defense and Social Security. Medicare accounts for about 13 percent of federal spending and 22 percent of national health expenditures.
The cuts in reimbursement stem from a payment formula based on the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, a program Congress set up in 1997 that tied the payments doctors received for treating these patients to the nation's gross domestic product. But even though the cuts were scheduled to take effect at the turn of the millennium, a series of quick fixes have pushed the schedule back.
Congress has instituted such delays nine times over the past eight years, most recently last April.
When it was implemented, the formula was well intentioned, said Stuart Guterman, assistant vice president at The Commonwealth Fund, an independent research organization. But since then it has misfired, because it doesn't focus on the reasons behind the rise in spending and specific services that are overpriced.
It's that formula that needs to be fixed to make the program sustainable, medical professionals concur, rather than simply imposing temporary fixes to override the payment cuts without addressing the root causes of the growth in expenditures.
"We're left with a choice between a temporary fix that just 'kicks the can down the road' without fixing the underlying problem and a 21 percent across-the-board cut in physician fees that would cut primary care as well as specialty care, distort incentives, hurt beneficiaries, and severely damage the credibility of the Medicare program," Guterman told ABC News. "The recurring cuts in physician fees produced by the SGR formula must be eliminated in order to achieve effective payment and delivery system reforms."