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Congress Moves Closer To Changing Medicare Pay For Doctors

Oct 31, 2013

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Reported by

Julie Rovner

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill don't agree on much when it comes to health care.

But, believe it or not, leaders from both parties on two key committees have come up with a plan to fix a longstanding problem with the formula that pays doctors who treat Medicare patients.

"For years, Medicare payments to doctors have been at risk of being slashed, limiting seniors' access to high quality care," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement. "Enough with the quick fixes. Our proposal is for a new physician payment system that rewards value over volume. It will go a long way in improving the efficiency and quality of care for America's seniors."

Earlier this summer, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously to overhaul the Medicare physician payment system, which would also alleviate the need for Congress to make annual fixes to prevent huge cuts to doctor payments under the program.

Those fixes have become an annoying annual rite for everyone involved.

The key is to repeal something called the sustainable growth rate formula, or SGR, and replace it with a system that would pay doctors based on how healthy they keep their patients.

Now the heads of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees have released a proposal that resembles one approved by Energy and Commerce.

The plan would freeze payments for 10 years, but would allow doctors and other health care providers to earn bonuses based on performance.

There is a catch. Neither committee has proposed a way to pay the estimated $140 billion cost of a permanent fix over 10 years. Even so, this is the closest Congress has come to addressing the festering policy problem in more than a decade.

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