Congress intends to pass another short-term "doc fix" instead of the long-term solution physicians have been seeking for years, a House committee spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
Negotiations have stalled on a bipartisan bill that would repeal and replace the Medicare formula that pays doctors because leadership could not come to an agreement on how to pay for it.
Lawmakers must act by March 31 to avert an automatic cut to Medicare physicians' pay. With seven days to go after Congress returns from recess next week, aides are preparing a short-term patch with the hope that it leads to more bipartisan work on the permanent solution, the spokesman said in an email.
Key stakeholders and policymakers on both sides of the aisle had been hopeful that they would finally pass a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate formula that institutes automatic cuts to the entitlement program. The Congressional Budget Office gave the deal an 11-year, $138 billion price tag — one of the lowest estimates in recent attempts at a permanent fix — and things were looking up.
But in December, lawmakers pushed the negotiations further down the road in a last-minute budget agreement, and now the election year has both parties standing firm on how they feel the government should pay for the program.
Republicans even tied a delay of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate to the bill as a pay-for, arguing that the Democrats had proposed no other alternatives. While that version of the bill passed the House last week, it's going nowhere in the Senate, and it even got a White House promise to veto.
The news of another short-term patch will come as a blow to advocates of a permanent SGR fix. The American Medical Association, which represents doctors, held a conference in Washington earlier this month to lobby the Hill to get it done, meeting with leadership in both houses about their progress on the issue.
"Continuing the cycle of kicking the can down the road through temporary patches in the months ahead simply wastes more taxpayer money to preserve a bad policy of Congress's own making," said AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven in a statement after the sham vote on the individual mandate delay.
In all, Congress has spent upward of $150 billion since 2003 on 15 "doc fixes."