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After A Decade, Congress Moves To Fix Doctors' Medicare Pay
But something unusual happened just before Congress left for its
summer break. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 51-0 for a bill
that would overhaul the way Medicare pays doctors. The bill would, among other
things, repeal something called the sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) and
eventually replace it with a system that would pay doctors based on how healthy
they keep their patients. The current formula has threatened to cut physician
pay, often by double-digit rates, for each of the past dozen years. "Since
its passage in 1997, SGR has bred uncertainty and frustration," said
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), during the panel's
consideration of the bill. "Doctors have been forced to endure 11th hour
fixes, sometimes on a monthly basis, which clearly have stymied physicians'
abilities to run their practices." Efforts to undo those cuts have come to
be known as the "doc fix." "Over the last 10 years, we've spent
about $146 billion on patches and patches and patches," says Ardis Hoven,
President of the American Medical Association. "We lived through
2010," she said, when Congress had to avert cuts on a monthly basis for
part of the year — something Hoven says was more than a little frustrating for
doctors and their patients.