Sunday, 14 July 2024

Senate approves legislation to help physicians serving overseas

WASHINGTON, The U.S. Senate approved a provision late Thursday night to help National Guard and Reserve physicians maintain their practices during lengthy overseas deployments.

The bill that was passed, HR2429 originally authored by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) is the House companion to S.1767, which was introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) earlier this month.

The measure will temporarily exempt physicians serving in the Armed Forces overseas from a Medicare law that currently places a 60-day restriction on the amount of time a physician can fill in for a colleague who is 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. Sens. Wyden and Lott and Reps. Thompson and Johnson are confident that they will be able to enact a permanent exemption later this year.

"Our legislation will help the nearly 3,000 medical professionals who are putting their lives and careers on hold to take care of our troops overseas," said Wyden. "After their sacrifices for our country, these brave men and women deserve to find their medical practices waiting for them when they return home."

"Our men and women serving in the Armed Forces deserve more than bureaucratic red-tape, and this bill will help ease some of the strain placed on health care providers serving our country in uniform," said Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi. "When doctors go overseas, their patients are often left without a primary physician. Our legislation, passed by unanimous consent, will allow patients to continue visiting the offices of their citizen soldier doctors."

HR2429 passed the House of Representatives in May by a vote of 422-0. Wyden and Lott and Thompson and Johnson have also introduced legislation to make the exemption permanent for National Guard and Reserve physicians serving overseas. Last night, the permanent exemption was included in the House healthcare package, HR 3162.

"When 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 care for our troops overseas shouldn't have to worry that their patients and practices aren't being cared for here at home. This legislation changes Medicare policy, ensuring that the patients and practices of thousands of doctors in the Guard and Reserves will be cared for when their doctor is called to active duty."

"When you're a doctor serving in a war, the last think you want to worry about is your patients not getting the care they need because no one can help them. Our bill changes that," said the 29-year Air Force veteran, U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson.

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 60 days. After that, 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.

The legislation 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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