Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) argued today that opening up the Medicare claims database could be one way to help doctors do a better job of coordinating care and reducing the cost of care.
Wyden promoted a Medicare database openness proposal he and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), have developed at a Medicare physician payment hearing organized by the Senate Finance Committee.
The committee convened the hearing, which was streamed live on the Web, to talk about efforts to repeal the “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) Medicare physician payment law.
Lawmakers enacted the SGR law in 1997, in an effort to tie increases in the Medicare physician pay rates to growth in the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Since then, physician fees have increased much more quickly than GDP, and Congress has stepped in every year to keep the SGR fee-setting system from taking effect.
If Congress fails to block the SGR law by Jan. 1, 2014, then the Medicare physician reimbursement rate would drop about 25 percent.
Both Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the highest ranking Republican, said they would like to repeal the SGR system. They noted that the Congressional Budget Office has cut its estimate of the cost of SGR repeal in half, to $139 billion.
“If Congress doesn’t act now, when will we find a path forward?” Hatch asked.
Lawmakers said SGR repeal should be combined with efforts to reform the way Medicare pays physicians.
Wyden said that one major obstacle to physician efforts to coordinate and increase the efficiency of care is the physicians’ lack of access to information about Medicare claims.