Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Congress Sends Medicare "Doc Fix" Bill To Pres. Obama

Tuesday night, Congress overwhelmingly passed a $214 billion bill to reform the way the Medicare program pays doctors. President Obama congratulated both chambers of Congress on passing the legislation by 392-37 in the House and 92-8 in the Senate, saying in a statement that he will be “proud to sign it into law.”

Passage of this major piece of legislation is regarded by all sides as a “historic move” and the perhaps the “biggest legislative accomplishment of the year” for the 114th Congress, which has so far been crippled by gridlock, mostly with internal factions of the Republican members of Congress.

Passage of the legislation, nicknamed the "doc fix" bill, is particularly notable in the context bitter Republican opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act health reform legislation that has stalled Congressional progress on any healthcare issue for years.

The Medicare "doc fix" bill puts an end to a divisive right/left issue that has caused Congressional bickering annually for the last 17 years.
In 1997, as part of an effort to balance the budget, Congress developed the “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) formula for capping payments to Medicare doctors. The SGR was intended to keep doctor payments in check by tying them to economic growth, but health costs grew more rapidly than economic growth over the last 15 years.

The payment cap imposed by the SGR formula caused an annual shortfall in payment funds for Medicare doctors. Doctors continually threatened the shortfall in payment funds would force them to stop treating Medicare patients altogether. Many doctors have refused the accept Medicare patients of the issue. Congress annually scrambled to pass stop-gap "payment fix" bills 17 separate times so doctors could afford to treat their Medicaid patients.
Under provisions of the "doc fix" bill headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature, Medicare doctors will get a modest pay increase, and then their payments will be linked to measures of quality rather than to economic growth. It’s part of a shift founded in the Affordable (Obama) Care Act to reward physicians and hospitals for the quality of health care that they provide, rather than the sheer number of patients they treat and procedures they perform.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), repealing the old SGR formula and forgoing Medicare payment caps may add as much as an estimated $141 billion to the U.S. debt over the next decade.   Republican want-to-be-president hopefuls Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted against the bill on Tuesday night, in part, because they oppose the government run Medicaid program, protesting its not a program America can afford. Cruz, who once spent more than 21 hours filibustering funding for the Affordable Care Act, says the legislation “institutionalizes and expands Obamacare policies.”

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