March 27, 2015

By a sizable majority, the House yesterday approved a bill to repeal Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula. Coverage portrays the vote as a rare bipartisan victory for Congress and a win for both House Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi. However, the AP(3/27) is reporting this morning that the Senate “has delayed giving final congressional approval to bipartisan legislation permanently blocking Medicare cuts for physicians until next month.” According to the article, leaders decided to wait until after Congress’ two-week spring recess to finish the legislation. Physicians are scheduled to be hit with Medicare cuts April 1, but the “government can delay processing the payments until lawmakers return.”
The Hill (3/27, Carney) “Floor Action” blog reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “said senators will ‘move to it very quickly’ once they return from the recess next month.”
The New York Times (3/27, A16, Steinhauer, Pear, Subscription Publication) reports that the House “overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the Medicare system on Thursday, in the most significant bipartisan policy legislation to pass through that chamber since the Republicans regained a majority in 2011.” The Times says the bill, which would eliminate Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula and put an end to the recurring threat of payment cuts to physicians, has “already been blessed by President Obama.” The measure would also increase premiums for some higher income Medicare beneficiaries and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years.
USA Today (3/27, Kelly) notes the measure would repeal the SGR formula “and replace it with one that would increase payments to doctors by one-half of 1% every year through 2019.” After that, physicians would receive bonuses or penalties depending on performance scores from the Federal government.
The legislation, spearheaded by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), marks a victory for both House leaders, the Wall Street Journal (3/27, Hughes, Subscription Publication) reports. The bill passed the House by a vote of 392-37 on Thursday and is expected to clear the Senate with little difficulty.
The Los Angeles Times (3/27, Levey) reports that some Senate Democrats are concerned that the bill extends CHIP for only two years, rather than four, but the “overwhelming” vote in the House “gave the legislation more momentum” yesterday. Likewise, the AP(3/27, Fram) says that the House vote “shifted pressure onto the Senate,” and The Hill (3/27, Ferris) reports that “pressure is building” for Senate leadership to pass the bill.
Reuters (3/27, Cornwell, Humer) notes the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that the House bill would cost $214 billion over ten years, adding $141 billion to the Federal deficit. Nonetheless, Boehner touted the legislation as the first real reform to US entitlement programs in nearly 20 years. According to The Hill (3/27, Marcos) “Floor Action” blog, the 33 Republicans who opposed the bill Thursday “consisted of fiscal hawks who didn’t want to vote for a measure that would add to the deficit.”
The Washington Times (3/27, A1, Howell) reports that medical groups on Thursday “praised the House vote and called on the Senate to finish the job.” Robert M. Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said, “When passed by the Senate, the bill will put an end to the cycle of Congress passing expensive patches to extend a policy that all agree was bad in the first place.”
An AMA Wire (3/27) article applauds the House vote and calls on physicians to “urge their members of the U.S. Senate to take similar action today to approve the policy and send it to the president’s desk before the current SGR payment patch expires on March 31.”



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