House and Senate leaders Thursday unveiled a bipartisan bill to end recurring pay cuts that doctors face under Medicare.
With participating physicians facing a 21 percent pay cut on April 1, lawmakers released a bill to replace Medicare’s "Sustainable Growth Rate" formula and end the so-called "doc fix" - temporary patches that Congress has approved 17 times to prevent slashing pay to doctors.
The language in the bill is similar to one introduced last year: It would repeal the SGR while instituting an 0.5 percent payment increases for five years while Medicare transitions doctors to a new system that emphasizes quality care over volume of care.
The bill also requires doctors to receive at least 25 percent of their Medicare revenue through the so-called Alternative Payment Models by 2019-2020.
"Finally, after unparalleled progress in recent years, both sides of the aisle have begun to understand that the long-term solvency of our Medicare system depends on taking this fight head-on together," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.
The bill has bipartisan support but - with the April 1 deadline looming - it still has some significant hurdles to overcome. The measure is expected to cost more than $200 billion over 10 years. But lawmakers thus far have only figured out how to pay for $70 billion, which has raised concerns among conservative Republicans.
Senate Democrats are concerned about a provision in the bill that extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years. CHIP is set to expire in September and Senate Democrats want it extended for four years.
"Introduction of this policy appears to be more about pushing an overall package I haven’t seen, rather than about the physician payment reforms my colleagues and I worked so hard to develop," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. "A bill of this magnitude, on such a tight deadline, requires significant give and take to a balanced agreement that can pass both chambers."
Wyden wasn’t among the House and Senate committee chairs and ranking Democrats who signed onto the bill. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were upbeat about the bill’s prospects Thursday.
"I'm not going to say we've got it all resolved yet, but I'm optimistic that we will get it resolved," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday.
Pelosi said revamping the physician payment system is "something that has to happen."
"I think we’re on a path where everybody understands the seriousness of…addressing the SGR, the so-called doc-fix, so that seniors can have access to their doctors under Medicare," she said. "That’s important and we understand that has to happen."