Bill to fix physician payment cut stalls in Senate

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The Medicare bill Charles Baucus (front), D-Mont., is being challenged by one from Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Source: Telegraph  

Democrats fell six votes shy (54-29) of the 60 votes necessary to move the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (S. 3101) forward in the Senate.

The bill, introduced June 6 by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., seeks to prevent the looming 10.6 percent physician payment cut called for by Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula set to go into effect on July 1. The measure replaces the 10.6 percent cut as well as a 5 percent cut set for Jan. 1, with a 0.5 percent positive update for the rest of 2008 and a 1.1 percent update through 2009.

The legislation also calls for providers of advanced diagnostic imaging services to be accredited to receive payment for the technical component of those services and establishes a two-year voluntary demonstration program to test the use of physician-developed appropriateness criteria.

While halting the reduction to doctor reimbursements is something both parties have supported, the trimming of Medicare Advantage program was one big reason for its unpopularity among Republicans. Among other changes, the bill would have forced private, fee-for-service plans to create healthcare provider networks, drawing a veto threat from President George W. Bush, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has formulated a separate bill, which largely parallels Baucus’ version, except in which programs or services would be cut to pay for the increased physician payments. The WSJ reported that Grassley’s version of the bill would cost less than Baucus’—$16.5 billion compared to $20 billion over five years.

According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), the Senate and House must pass a bill that the President can sign, or override his veto, by June 30, to spare physicians from the 10.6 percent cut.

A modified Medicare package will be pushed into next week for consideration as the July 1 deadline approaches.