Shall they beat their swords into Medicare doctor pay?
A House GOP lawmaker on Wednesday sounded open to the idea of using unspent war funds as a way to pay for a long-term fix to Medicare's contentious sustainable growth rate formula.
Earlier Wednesday, the House-Senate negotiating committee responsible for devising long-term solutions to a middle-class payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance, the SGR, and extensions for certain Medicare programs met for the second time. Some committee members during and after the meeting highlighted an earlier-proposed idea of using potential spending reductions from Overseas Contingency Operations funds to pay for a long-term SGR fix. Those funds support national security operations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in which U.S. involvement is ending.
There was no estimate of how much money might be available from the OCO funds. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a 10-year fix of the physician-payment formula would cost $300 billion.
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said after the meeting that "there's no other way" than using OCO funds because there isn't another area that could yield the dollars needed to fix the SGR. On Wednesday evening, a GOP member of the conference committee appeared receptive to the idea.
"I think in the context of the committee, the House bill is where we are right now. And we haven't had any written Senate response whatsoever," Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a physician, told Modern Healthcare. Price was referring to a bill the House passed in December that would provide a two-year patch to the SGR that would allow lawmakers more time to craft a permanent solution. "And that's w here I think that we are as it relates to the committee. In the bigger picture, I have always supported a repeal of the SGR and figuring out a way to do it. And is OCO a way? I don't know. I think it probably makes sense to be able to do that.
“Are there other ways? Yes, and we've outlined some. I've worked extensively…to come up with a five-year patch before the end of the year," he added. "I think there are all sorts of ways to do it, and that's one."
But following a conference committee meeting Thursday, Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said that appears unlikely. “I haven’t really dug into that issue,” Camp told reporters. “My view is it’s outside the scope of conference. It’s not in either the House or Senate bill.”
Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZigmond.