This week, leaders on Capitol Hill continued to discuss the “sequester,” which is scheduled to hit in just three weeks, on March 1st. In addition, one critical bill – the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act – was re-introduced this week.
Leaders Still Divided as Sequester Nears
Only three weeks are left before the sequester takes effect, and it remains unclear whether or not leaders in Washington will be able to negotiate a balanced package that both sides can support. Despite the severity of the looming cuts, lawmakers have not openly discussed serious plans yet, and leaders have instead been eyeing proposals that will face certain opposition. In the Senate, the majority has been working on reconfiguring the sequester primarily with revenue increases. In the House, the majority has been focusing on a set of spending cuts – including increasing the Medicare eligibility age and “chaining” the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, one anonymous leadership aide told Politico.
If leaders in Congress cannot agree on an alternative, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts will go into effect, including a 2 percent cut in reimbursement rates for physicians who treat Medicare patients. President Obama recommended a “smaller package” to temporarily delay the cuts on Tuesday, but it remains unclear which plan of attack Congressional leaders will take. The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) is hopeful that lawmakers will address the 2 percent cut in Medicare provider reimbursement rates before they are scheduled take effect in March. We will continue to monitor the evolving negotiations, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.
Critical SGR-Repeal Bill is Re-introduced
On Wednesday, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) re-introduced the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574), a bill that would repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that is used to determine reimbursement rates for physicians who treat Medicare patients. In addition, in order to develop a path forward, it would set up a five-year trial period during which payments to providers would stabilize and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would test and evaluate new models. Currently, physicians face sizable scheduled pay cuts due to the faulty nature of the formula, and many are threatening to stop accepting Medicare patients if the issue is not tackled soon.
TSCL is very supportive of the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act, and we believe that a sustainable path forward must be established during the 113th Congress in order to increase stability within the Medicare program and preserve seniors’ access to quality medical care. H.R. 574 currently has bipartisan support with eight cosponsors, and a new report released by the Congressional Budget Office this week may help give it important momentum. According to the report, the bill’s major obstacle – its cost – has been diminished by more than one-half, from $300 billion to $138 billion. TSCL looks forward to working with Rep. Schwartz in the coming months to help build support and pass the bill into law.