(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Congress is racing to beat a March 31 deadline to avoid a 24 percent cut in Medicare physician pay rate.
The House today passed a one-year suspension of the payment rate cuts by a voice vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The House measure would replace the estimated 24 percent cut with a 0.5 percent increase in payments through Dec. 31, with no increase from Jan. 1 through March 31, 2015. The Senate hasn’t committed to holding a vote on the measure, though lawmakers say there’s still time to avoid the rate cuts.
Assuming Congress approves the new, temporary doc fix measure, this will be the 17th time lawmakers have prevented the Medicare “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) physician reimbursement system from taking effect in a decade.
A permanent doc fix proposal won support from both Democrats and Republicans, but the permanent doc fix bill that included the proposal stalled.
Republicans added a provision postponing the effective data of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) individual health coverage mandate to the permanent doc fix bill.
Lawmakers created the SGR system in 1997 budget bill. Drafters tried to hold Medicare costs down by tying increases in the reimbursement rate to growth in U.S. gross domestic product.
In practice, reimbursement rates have grown faster than GDP, but physicians have lobbied successfully to keep the SGR caps from affecting their pay.
The current SGR postponement authority “March 31 – Monday.
“What we do is not real,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, adding that “everybody knows” lawmakers will delay the cuts again. “We want the medical community providers to continue to provide services to Medicare patients, to seniors. So we know we’re going to do it.”