July 11, 2007

Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation will Help National Guard and Reserve Physicians Serving Overseas

Reps. Mike Thompson and Sam Johnson join Senators Wyden and Lott to eliminate Medicare regulation that puts medical practices and patients at risk

Washington, DC - In an effort to help National Guard and Reserve physicians maintain their practices during lengthy overseas deployments, members on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress introduced legislation today 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 U.S. 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 last 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 today.

"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."

"Helping our doctors serving in harm's way in the Guard and the Reserves is just plain common sense," said Johnson. "I hope we can get this bill done soon."

"Men and women serving our country should not have to wade through mounds of red-tape while fighting for our freedoms," said Lott. "This legislation will help ease some of the burden physicians now face while they are deployed. By correcting the current flaw in Medicare law, physicians will not lose their practices and their patients will not lose their healthcare providers."

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.