The perennial battle over Medicare payments to doctors is about to surface on Capitol Hill once again and the outcome is likely to be the same as in previous years—a temporary patch.
The current “doc fix” expires at the end of March. If Congress fails to act, physicians will face a 21.2% decrease in payments for treating Medicare beneficiaries—a prospect that's viewed as untenable.
Prospects for a permanent fix to Medicare's sustainable growth-rate formula before the end of the month are slim to non-existent, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers who track the issue.
“It's pretty clear that we're going to get some kind of a patch,” said Dean Rosen, a partner with the lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen Bingel & Thomas. “The only question is, how long is it going to be?” This patch would be the 18th straight short-term doc fix.
Speculation on the length of the patch runs from two months to the end of 2016, which would kick the SGR can past the next presidential election. But most informed observers are focused on a shorter-term fix in the three- to six-month range. That would provide a window for Republican congressional leaders to work on a permanent repeal package.