By a vote of 64 to 35, the US Senate approved a one-year “patch” of the current SGR-based Medicare payment formula, rather than entirely replacing the flawed system. President Obama signed the bill, which provides a 0.5% increase in physician Medicare reimbursements for the rest of 2014.
It’s the 17th such temporary stopgap Congress has passed over the last 11 years, and it came despite staunch opposition to another short-term “doc fix” by many physician groups, including the AMA and the AAOS. When the House passed the same measure a week earlier, AAOS president Frederick Azar, MD, said he was “profoundly disappointed.”
There was a last-ditch but unsuccessful effort by Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to get his colleagues to vote on a permanent repeal of the SGR formula. Had Congress not acted at all, a 24% cut in Medicare reimbursements would have taken effect April 1, 2014. Previous patch votes have been accompanied by congressional promises to use the reprieve to hammer out a bipartisan deal to pay for a permanent SGR repeal. That has never happened, and few are optimistic that it will happen this year.
As physicians are swallowing the bitter pill of another SGR patch, some are relieved with another stipulation in the bill: a one-year delay in the implementation of the ICD-10 code set until at least Oct. 1, 2015. The AMA recently estimated that implementing the new, more complex code set could cost small practices up to $225,000, and last July the AAOS supported a bill to stop the transition to ICD-10 so physicians could develop an appropriate alternative. Another provision in the new bill gives the secretary of Health and Human Services permission to address “misvalued codes” used in the Medicare physician fee schedule.
According to Thomas Barber, MD, chair of the AAOS Council on Advocacy, “The delay in ICD-10 implementation may provide temporary relief for some, but the importance of a permanent SGR policy together with the harmful misvalued codes provision in this patch greatly outweigh any benefits.”
Read a summary of the bill’s provisions here: http://www.massmed.org/Advocacy/Key-Issues/Medicare/Summary–Protecting-Medicare-Access-Act-of-2014/#.UzrNkqJ0lyI