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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SURPRISE! SGR PATCH CAUGHT UP IN CAPITOL HILL POLITICS

Here’s the relatively good news. The Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is pushing for a vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, on a year-end financial package that would stop the 27.4-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments scheduled for Jan. 1. In fact, the bill would increase the payment rates by 1 percent in both 2012 and 2013, provide some relief for physician-owned hospitals, and negate expected geographic adjustments of physicians’ Medicare payments that would have hit some Texas practices particularly hard. Here’s the sad news. The legislation doesn’t do away with the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that drives the annual cuts, but it does require Congress and the Obama administration to study some possible alternatives before 2014, when physicians’ payments would be chopped by about 37 percent. Here’s the bad news. The bill has little chance of passing the Senate as it now stands. It’s not because of the SGR patch. Tacked onto the measure, which also would continue the payroll tax cut and extend unemployment insurance, is a provision to fast-track a permit decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons and are saying “no” to the whole package because of that. Meanwhile, uncertainty strengthens its grip on your practice, and the Big, Bad SGR continues to threaten Grandma.

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