This week, Members of the Senate focused on two proposals that would extend the Bush era tax cuts through 2013, and Members of the House focused on a series of trade, energy, and financial system measures. Meanwhile, one House Subcommittee met to discuss the looming pay cut for physicians who treat Medicare patients, and TSCL saw support grow for a key bill.
House Subcommittee Holds “Doc Fix” Hearing
On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee met with a panel of six expert witnesses to discuss Medicare physician payment reform. Members on both sides of the aisle seemed to agree that the current system, which operates under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, is inefficient and inaccurate. However, the Subcommittee Members seemed skeptical about their ability to reach a compromise on a permanent solution by the end of this year.
At Wednesday’s hearing, witnesses urged the Subcommittee Members to invite physicians to the discussion table in order to avoid the adoption of a top-down, government-centered model. The six witnesses said that physicians should be involved to best determine correct standards, guidelines, and appropriate rewards for quality care. Many Members seemed to agree. Rep. Tom Price (GA-6), a physician himself, stated, “The definition of the best treatment comes from a doctor and his patient, and not the wonderful people in grand white buildings.”
Members on the Subcommittee expressed their hope to reform the system by the end of this year, but many cited concerns about the daunting $300 billion price tag that comprehensive reform would come with. Several Members seemed to favor legislation introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26) last week that would provide physicians with a one-year pay patch. If Congress does not reform the system or provide a temporary “doc fix” by December 31st, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a twenty-seven percent cut in reimbursements – an amount that TSCL fears would affect seniors’ access to medical care.
Support Grows for SGR-Repeal Bill
This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15) – signed on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 5707). The cosponsor total is now up to twenty-seven.
The bill, if signed into law, would repeal the SGR and provide a permanent solution to the Medicare physician payment fiasco. It would stabilize payments for five years and set up a trial period during which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would test and evaluate new payment and delivery models. TSCL strongly believes that the SGR breeds uncertainty in the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries. Many doctors are simply fed up with the pay cuts that they face each year, and many seniors are losing access to their trusted physicians as a result. We believe that Rep. Schwartz’s bill would bring increased stability to the program, and we were pleased to see one new cosponsor express support this week.