Congress Plans to Use Another Band-Aid for ‘Doc Fix’

With a week and a half to go before Medicare doctors take an automatic pay cut, the Hill has resorted to its tried-and-true short-term patch.

A physician with stethoscope poses on October 19, 2009 in Manassas, Virginia. A new poll released October 20, 2009 found most Americans support one of the most controversial healthcare reform options being debated by lawmakers.The Washington Post-ABC News poll found 57 percent of Americans either strongly or somewhat support 'having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.' Some 40 percent said they were strongly or somewhat opposed to the so-called public option, which President Barack Obama has said he favors but does not consider a non-negotiable component of any health care reform. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
March 19, 2014, 11:34 a.m.

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.”

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