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AP Newsbreak: Medicare cuts could hit Jan. 18

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Raising the stakes for a gridlocked Congress, Medicare officials said Tuesday hundreds of thousands of doctors will get a steep cut in payments on Jan. 18 unless lawmakers issue a reprieve.A provision waiving a scheduled 27.4 percent cut in physician reimbursement was included in the payroll tax legislation now ensnared in partisan political wrangling between the House and Senate.The recurring threat of cuts to doctors is perhaps the most visible symbol of Medicare's financial problems. Reductions are required by a 1990s budget law that failed to control spending but never got repealed. Instead, Congress passes a temporary fix each time, only to grow the size of cuts required next time around.Medicare sent an alert to some 650,000 doctors on Monday telling them it will hold claims for the first 10 business days of 2012 unless Congress acts to waive the cuts.On Tuesday, deputy administrator Jonathan Blum said holding claims any longer than that could cause Medicare's computers to crash. That disclosure may come as a shock to lawmakers, since Medicare was able to hold claims for more than 20 days during a similar standoff last year during the summer.\I want to emphasize that history cannot be applied to this situation