Conferees reach agreement on short-term SGR patch; AMA & MSNJ express deep disappointment
A message from the AMA:
While some details are still being finalized, it is being reported from Capitol Hill that conferees have reached agreement on extending the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance benefits, and current Medicare physician payment rates for the next 10 months, through the end of 2012.
In lieu of the 27.4 percent physician payment cut scheduled to take effect on March 1, a payment freeze will be effective through the end of the year. The cost of this short-term patch was reportedly offset through reductions in a number of health care programs, including Medicaid disproportionate share payments to hospitals, Medicare bad debt payments to hospitals, federal Medicaid payments to Louisiana, and the prevention fund created by the Affordable Care Act. Other expiring Medicare policies were also extended through the end of the year, including the “floor” on geographic adjustments to the physician work component of the Medicare fee schedule, the therapy cap exemption process, and ambulance add-on payments. Two policies—Section 508 hospital and special pathology payments—will be phased out, and mental health add-on payments and pay increases for bone density scans have been eliminated.
Assuming this agreement secures sufficient support, it could be voted on by both the House and Senate by the end of the week.
The AMA issued the following statement as details of this agreement began to emerge, attributable to AMA President Peter W. Carmel, MD:
“The House and Senate conference committee agreement averts a 27 percent cut on March 1, but it represents a serious missed opportunity to permanently replace the flawed Medicare physician payment formula and protect access to care for military families and seniors. People outside of Washington question the logic of spending nearly $20 billion to postpone one cut for a higher cut next year, while increasing the cost of a permanent solution by about another $25 billion.
“Congress had an opportunity to permanently end this problem, which is the sound, fiscally prudent policy choice. We appreciate efforts by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who publicly supported a framework for a permanent end to this perennial problem. We are deeply disappointed that Congress chose to just do another patch – kicking the can, growing the problem and missing a clear opportunity to protect access to care for patients. Shortly after the coming elections, access to care for seniors and military will again be threatened by an even larger cut, and members of Congress will need to take swift action to end the broken formula.”