House rejects two-month payroll tax cut extension, including doc fix
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The U.S. House of Representatives, in a vote of 229-193, rejected the bipartisan Senate bill H.R. 3630, which included a two-month extension to the payroll tax cut and a fix to the sustainable growth rate (SGR). Instead, the House Republicans are insisting on a year-long extension of the tax cut.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the House’s decision rejecting the Senate version of the bill on Dec. 20 because of certain revisions that the bill underwent in the Senate.On his website, he stated that the House passed a “reasonable, responsible bill” last week that extended payroll tax relief for a full year, reforms and extends unemployment insurance, and included a two-year doc fix.

"We have voted to go to a formal conference to resolve the differences between the two bills," Boehner stated. He also announced that eight House negotiators have been named to a conference committee on the payroll tax cut extension, and urged President Barack Obama to call on Senate Democrats to "appoint their negotiators to hammer out a long-term payroll tax cut agreement as quickly as possible."

As of publication time, both the House and Senate have adjourned for the holidays without addressing the pending SGR cut and further inaction will result in the 27.4 percent physician payment cut taking effect Jan. 1.

Various medical societies have expressed frustration at the current progress. “Congress has again failed to fulfill its responsibilities. It is shameful that patients and physicians are the collateral damage; the citizens of this country deserve better,” Peter W. Carmel, MD, president of American Medical Association, said in a statement. “Congress had the entire year to repeal the broken physician payment formula and provide stability for the millions of seniors and military families who rely on Medicare and TRICARE but has failed to act. It is long past time for members of Congress to act decisively and protect access to care for seniors and military families.”

In the meantime, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is instructing Medicare claims administration contractors to hold claims containing 2012 services paid under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for the first 10 business days of January 2012 (Jan. 1 through Jan. 17). According to CMS, the hold should have minimal impact on provider cash flow because, under current law, clean electronic claims are not paid sooner than 14 calendar days (29 days for paper claims) after the date of receipt.

As part of its statement, CMS also expressed disappointment "that Congress has failed to pass a solution to eliminate the SGR formula-driven cuts, and has put payments for healthcare for Medicare beneficiaries at risk." The agency also is urging Congress to take action to ensure these cuts do not take effect.