Legislative Update for Week Ending February 7, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 7, 2014

This week, lawmakers serving on three separate committees reached an agreement on the policy parameters for repealing and replacing the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain support.

SGR Talks Continue

This week, lawmakers serving on three committees – the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee – successfully reached an agreement on the policy parameters for repealing and replacing the flawed SGR formula, which is currently used to determine payment rates for doctors who treat Medicare beneficiaries. According to Rep. Charles Boustany (LA-3), who is involved in the negotiations, the deal combines elements of three separate bills – one from each committee – in the best way possible.

Their agreement would do away with the SGR and provide doctors with .5 percent annual payment updates for a period of five years. Rates would stay stable for the following five years, although doctors could qualify for bonuses by participating in programs that reward quality over quantity. By 2024, the new model would be fully phased in and doctors would be eligible for annual updates of either .5 percent or 1 percent, depending on which payment model they choose to participate in.

Despite this week’s progress, much work remains for those serving on the three committees. Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) stated on Thursday, “We still have to figure out how to pay for it, and I am under no illusions about how difficult that may be.” Lawmakers will need to find approximately $130 billion in offsets before March 31st, which is when the current “doc fix,” or payment patch expires. Should they fail to do so, doctors will see a pay cut of nearly 25 percent, which could threaten seniors’ access to quality medical care.

TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will successfully reach a compromise on offsets before the looming deadline. Repealing and replacing the SGR once and for all would bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program for both doctors and seniors. TSCL will keep a close eye on the evolving negotiations in the coming weeks, and we will provide updates here in the Legislative News section of our website. Additionally, we encourage our members and supporters to contact their elected officials to request their support for a permanent path forward. To find contact information for your Members of Congress, click HERE.

Two Key Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, three new cosponsors signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty. The new cosponsors are Reps. Rick Larsen (WA-2), Andre Carson (IN-7), and Hank Johnson, Jr. (GA-4). If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. The bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

In addition, two new cosponsors – Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1) and Michael Simpson (ID-2) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to fifty-seven. If signed into law, the PRIME Act would take a number of steps to comprehensively prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly.

TSCL was pleased to see support grow for H.R. 3118 and H.R. 2305 this week, and we look forward to helping build additional support for them in the coming months.