House OKs Bill to Stop Medicare Physician Cuts

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , November 20, 2009

The House of Representatives, voting 243 to 183 mostly along party lines on Thursday afternoon, approved a bill (HR 3961) that would prevent a 21% cut in the Medicare physician payment rate scheduled at the beginning of January 2010. Instead, as proposed under the House measure, physicians would receive a 1.2% annual increase.

The bill, known as the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act, calls for replacing the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, that was enacted more than a decade ago to help keep physician costs down. During the subsequent years, Congress usually had stepped in annually to override the cuts called for with the SGR.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R OH) said in a statement that the House had created a "doc fix" that would add approximately $300 billion to the federal budget deficit--outside of the House healthcare reform bill approved by the House last month.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a memo Thursday that enacting both HR 3961 and the House healthcare reform bill (HR 3962) together would add $89 billion to budget deficits over the 2010-2019 period.

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that the Medicare payment measure was "a separate bill that we've done on a regular basis." Hoyer said, "It is part of healthcare, but it's not healthcare reform.

The Democrats have said that the Medicare physician payment reform legislation would come under the "pay as you go" principle of budget discipline that requires Congress to find a way to pay for any new spending--outside of an economic crisis.

The White House on Thursday called the measure "an important step forward," and congratulated the House "for taking action to protect the care and physician choice that Medicare beneficiaries and TRICARE (military) patients have earned."

AMA President J. James Rohack, MD, said in a statement that "fixing the Medicare physician payment formula once and for all is an essential element of comprehensive health reform." He added that "physicians must be assured of stable payments so they can continue to care for seniors, baby boomers, and military families.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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