House OKs measure delaying Medicare doc pay cuts

The House voted 395-34 to approve a fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill that includes a measure to stave off Medicare physician payment cuts until March 2010.

Various proposals in the House and Senate seek a more permanent fix to Medicare's sustainable growth-rate, or SGR, formula, which is based on the economy's health and has threatened payment cuts to physicians every year since 2003. Physicians, however, aren't banking on any of those proposals getting approved before Jan. 1, the date when their Medicare payments are expected to get cut by 21.2% under the SGR formula.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), major medical groups stressed the urgency for fixing the SGR formula, but said they would support a “very short postponement of the imminent cuts for a period of 30-45 days, so that Congress has enough time to pass Medicare physician payment reform legislation that will be signed into law.”

Their wish was granted in the $636 billion defense appropriations bill, which contains a provision to delay the 21% cut through Feb. 28.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the defense appropriations bill by Friday.

The House last month approved a stand-alone bill to address a fix to Medicare's physician payment problem, and the comprehensive healthcare reform bill in the Senate additionally contains a one-year solution.

A year-long fix, however, “would push the issue into the election period and it would be even more difficult to reason a consensus on what to do. So we all thought it better to accept a short-term extension in order to help make sure Congress addresses the fix while it is still thinking about healthcare,” said Kevin Burke, director of the division of government relations with the American Academy of Family Physicians.