Legislative Update for Week Ending July 13, 2012

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 13, 2012

This week, Representatives in the House focused on a measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Senators on the Finance Committee met with doctors to discuss alternatives to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Meanwhile, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for a key piece of legislation.

House Votes to Repeal Affordable Care Act

By a vote of 244-185, Members of the House passed a measure that would repeal the Affordable Care Act. As expected, the vote landed mostly along party lines, with all Republican Representatives backing the measure and five Democrats joining them.

Following the vote, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA-7) stated, “I introduced this legislation on behalf of my colleagues so that we may all be on record following the Supreme Court’s decision. We are committed to taking this flawed law off the books.”

Despite the bill’s passage, a vote is not expected in the Senate and President Obama has already issued a veto threat against the measure. In a Statement of Administration Policy, he wrote, “The last thing Congress should do is re-fight old political battles … The Congress needs to work together to focus on the economy and creating jobs.”

With Democrats wanting to move on with its implementation and Republicans still fighting to repeal the bill, the Affordable Care Act will likely play a critical role in the upcoming election. TSCL will continue to monitor the ongoing debate.

Senate Finance Committee Hears from Medicare Physicians

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a roundtable with a number of physicians to discuss alternatives to the SGR, the formula that is used to determine reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare beneficiaries. Committee Chair Max Baucus (MT) began the discussion with the following statement: “Physicians are involved in up to 80 percent of total health care spending. We need [them] to suggest changes to the Medicare physician payment system that will spur high quality, high value care.”

The five physicians present at Wednesday’s roundtable offered valuable insights. Each of them encouraged the Senators to adopt a value-based model, which would reward physicians for the quality of their services rather than the quantity. They suggested that lawmakers strengthen primary care and provide “coordinated care” payments to doctors in order to prevent wasteful spending and promote preventive care. Each of the five asked the Senators to repeal the SGR, stabilize payments, and allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to experiment with new payment models.

The consensus was strong at Wednesday’s roundtable, but it remains to be seen whether or not Congress will address the issue by the end of this year. A 27 percent pay cut for physicians who treat Medicare patients is looming, and Members of Congress have three options: provide a temporary pay patch, repeal and replace the current system, or allow the cut to take effect on January 1. TSCL hopes that Congress will find a permanent solution by the end of this year in order to bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program.

Support Grows for Key SGR-Repeal Bill

This week, two new cosponsors signed on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 5707). Reps. Jim Himes (CT-4) and Kurt Schrader (OR-5) signed on, bringing the cosponsor total up to twenty-four.

If signed into law, Rep. Schwartz’s bill would repeal the SGR and set up a five-year trial period during which physician payments would stabilize and CMS would test new payment and delivery models. TSCL strongly believes that the SGR breeds uncertainty in the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries. Many doctors have stopped accepting Medicare patients, and many more are threatening to do so if a permanent solution is not established soon. We believe that the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act would bring increased stability to the program, and we were pleased to see two new cosponsors announce their support for it this week.