Saturday, 25 May 2024

Legislation will help physicians serving overseas

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, members of both houses of Congress reached out to help National Guard and Reserve physicians maintain their practices during lengthy overseas deployments.

Members of Congress introduced legislation that would exempt physicians serving in the Armed Forces overseas from a Medicare law that currently places a 60-day restriction on the amount of time one physician can fill in for a colleague on a leave of absence.

This limit creates serious hardship for physicians in the National Guard and Reserves, who are absent from their practices for longer than 60 days when they are called for active duty.

The House version was introduced by Representatives and Vietnam combat veterans Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Sam Johnson (R-TX), who authored the temporary version of the bill (HR 2429), which in May passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 422-0.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) introduced the Senate version Wednesday.

"When our Reserve and Guard physicians are deployed, they don't just leave behind their families - they also leave their patients," said Thompson. "Doctors taking care of our troops overseas shouldn't have to worry that their patients aren't being cared for here at home. This bill will help thousands of physicians protect their patients and practices when they're called to serve."

"Every day members of the National Guard and Reserve are asked to put their jobs and their lives on hold to serve their country in harm's way overseas, and this includes thousands of doctors who save countless lives on the battlefield. The least Congress can do is ensure that, in leaving home, these brave men and women aren't also asked to sacrifice their medical practices," said Wyden. "I commend Congressman Thompson for his leadership and his commitment to passing this important legislation."

Medicare currently allows physicians to enter reciprocal billing arrangements, whereby replacement physicians can care for the absent physician's patients and bill Medicare accordingly.

However, these arrangements cannot last longer than a 60-day period. After 60 days, a second replacement must be found. Securing replacement physicians is an expensive and difficult process, especially for practices in remote and rural areas.

Physicians who cannot secure multiple replacements during their absence can either lose their patients to other doctors or their patients must go without care.

HR 2429 suspends the 60-day cap for physicians filling in for members of the National Guard and Reserves who are called for duty through the rest of the calendar year.

This bill has been endorsed by the American Medical Association and is supported by the Reserve Officers Association.


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