Wednesday, 08 December 2021

House passes bill to help physicians serving overseas

WASHINGTON – On May 23, the House of Representatives passed a HR 2429, a bill to help physicians maintain their medical practices at home while serving their country overseas in the Guard or the Armed Forces Reserve.


The bill, introduced by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Sam Johnson (R-TX), fixes a limitation in Medicare law, which restricts to 60 days the amount of time a physician can fill in for another physician who is on a leave of absence.


This limit does not work for physicians in the Armed Forces Reserve and the Guard, who are absent from their practices for much longer than 60 days when they are called up for active duty.


"When these physicians are deployed, they leave behind families and jobs just like any other person in the Reserve or Guard," said Vietnam veteran Congressman Mike Thompson. "But they also leave behind their patients. Doctors who are taking care of our troops overseas shouldn't have to worry that their patients aren't being cared for here at home."


Thompson's Washington spokesperson, Anne Warden, reported that Thompson's office conducted a survey and found at least 3,000 doctors who are members of the Army Reserve or National Guard.


That number includes Dr. Brad Clair, a Lakeport doctor about to return overseas for a third tour of duty.


"This bill is just common-sense and eliminates red-tape for those serving our country and their communities. It's time we helped our weekend warriors who happen to be doctors to keep their patients and their practice," said the 29-year Air Force veteran and former Vietnam prisoner of war Congressman Sam Johnson. "This bill is a slam dunk!"


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 practices or their patients must go without care. HR 2429 suspends the 60-day cap for physicians filling in for Reserve and Guard members called for duty through the rest of the calendar year.


"Passage of this bill provides an immediate fix for physicians serving right now," said Thompson. "It will help thousands of physicians protect their patients and practices when they're called to duty and away serving our country. But, we need to make sure that this problem is permanently fixed. Representative Johnson and I are planning to introduce legislation that will do that and we are optimistic that it will receive equally strong support."


This bill has been endorsed by the American Medical Association.


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