Congress has a only a few weeks before a scheduled cut of nearly 30% to Medicare physician payment rates is enacted. Since 2002, Congress annually has passed a series of short-term bills to block scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. The most recent “doc fix” bill, enacted in December 2010, is scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2012, at which point physicians face a nearly 30% payment rate cut.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee met for more than an hour but came no closer to reaching a deal on the doc fix. Some health experts have predicted that putting together a package of cuts to fund this year’s doc fix legislation might be “relatively easy” for lawmakers because many options were presented to the debt panel.

Offsetting the scheduled cut and freezing payment rates at current rates for two years would cost about $38.6 billion over a decade and result in a 36% cut after the patch expires, according to the Congressional Budget Office. A one-year freeze would cost about $21 billion and result in a 32% cut upon expiration.