Legislative Update for Week Ending March 6, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 6, 2015

This week, key legislators revealed that they will not pass a permanent repeal of Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula before the March 31st deadline.

SGR Repeal Unlikely This Month

This week, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, revealed that Congress will not consider legislation that would permanently repeal and replace the SGR – the flawed formula that sets payment rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients – before the March 31st deadline. Instead, they will likely pass another short-term “doc fix” in order to avert a 21 percent pay cut for physicians that is set to hit on April 1st.

Lawmakers compromised on the policy parameters of a long-term solution more than a year ago, but since then, they have been unable to come up with an offset to cover the cost of the $174 billion package. This week, Rep. Tom Price (GA-6), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said, “We spend $3.6 trillion a year in this town – to come up with a pay-for ought to be relatively easy. There are things we have used before. There are areas in federal pensions … and rescission money that’s available out there. We ought to be able to find some resources to pay for this patch.”

He predicted that lawmakers will pass a six-month “doc fix” later this month in order to buy more time for the offset discussions. If Congress takes that route, the temporary pay patch would expire at the end of September – the same time that funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will run out. Rep. Price suggested that a permanent repeal of the SGR would likely be rolled into a package with CHIP’s reauthorization.

Rep. Paul Ryan said this week that he would also like to consider reforms to the Medicare program at that time. At an event on Monday, he stated, “There are other issues, like Medicare reform-based issues, that we’d like to enter into this to try and help pay for this … Sometimes you find if you have a problem that’s small and intractable, if you make it a little bigger it’s actually easier to solve, and that’s kind of the way we’re looking at the full-time doc fix.”

TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will successfully repeal and replace the SGR by the end of this year since doing so would bring increased stability to the Medicare program for both doctors and patients. However, we are opposed to offsets that would reduce Medicare benefits or require seniors to pay more for their health care, and we firmly believe that beneficiaries should not be penalized for the poor policy-making decisions that were made by Congress more than a decade ago.

We will keep a close eye on the evolving discussions in the months ahead, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.