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Monday, December 16, 2013

MEDICARE PAYMENTS: UP, DOWN, ACROSS, HOLD

You need a score card or a good lobbyist — and we have both — in Washington these days to keep track of all the bills that affect what physicians will get paid for delivering care to Medicare patients. Here are some key moves from just the past week: 
  • The U.S. House passed the bipartisan budget compromise, designed to prevent another government shutdown. Included in the fine print is a 0.5-percent update in physician Medicare payments through March 31. If the Senate passes it this week, that will eliminate the 24-percent cut the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) had scheduled to begin Jan. 1.
  • That same budget bill continues the sequester cuts to Medicare for two additional years and adopts cuts in long-term care payments to acute-care hospitals.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee approved legislation replacing the SGR with a payment system that rewards quality over volume. The bill provides 0.5-percent updates for three years, then freezes physicians’ Medicare payments for seven years. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn serves on the Finance Committee. Four Texans — Reps. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands), Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), Sam Johnson (R-Plano), and Kenny Marchant (D-Coppell) — have seats on the Ways and Means Committee. We’ll be calling on all five of them to help make some important changes in this legislation.
  • Writing on behalf of the Coalition of State Medical Societies, we asked congressional leaders to make some key changes to the bill: Provide positive automatic payment updates, eliminate the fee-for-service program penalties, and revise or scrap adoption of the ICD-10 coding system. “These are essential elements to positive and constructive Medicare payment reform,” we said.

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