Senate Inches Closer to Delay Doc Pay Cut until September 30

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media , March 10, 2010

The Senate has cleared the way to vote on delaying a 21.2% physician pay cut vote in Medicare reimbursement until September 30.

In a procedural action, the Senate voted Tuesday to move on a $150 billion package of legislation, including tax extenders and unemployment aid that the White House said is critically important to the country's economic recovery. The final vote may take place today.

Reacting to the 66-34 vote, President Obama said he was "grateful to members of both parties that helped move forward on this bill, " according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Fifty-eight Democrats and eight Republicans voted for cloture, to limit debate on the measures or a GOP filibuster, which has been a predominant theme in the Senate the last two weeks.

The Senate is considering an amendment by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act that would delay the Medicare payment cut for physicians—that was supposed to go into effect March 1— until September 30.

The Medicare payments were scheduled to be cut across the board in accordance with the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. The proposed delay may give Congress time to adjust the SGR formula. SGR links Part B Medicare reimbursement to the gross domestic product. The formula has led to proposed large cuts annually, which physicians have successfully worked to delay.

Physician groups have strongly opposed the SGR formula and some have urged Congress to drop it and rethink the payment process as part of healthcare reform. The pay cut issue has been continually dependent on congressional action. Last week, the Senate and House voted to continue delaying the scheduled pay cut 30 days to April 1. On Dec. 19, Congress voted to delay the scheduled payment cut until March 1.

"We're going to have these fixes to prevent the cuts in payments to doctors, whether it's six months or a year," says Robert Moffit, head of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Center for Health Policy Studies. "I don't see [Congress] in this environment changing it, unless they come up with $200 billion to offset payment for it."

In November, the House voted to get rid of the formula a Democratic-sponsored bill 243 to 183, but the Senate has not approved a similar measure.

Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.

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