Not so fast

Maybe we should have known it was going to happen again.

It seemed like there was a lot of optimism in the air this time regarding finding a permanent fix to the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. After passing another temporary patch to avoid a payment cliff late last year, Congressional leaders seemed motivated to push for a long-term solution, and it felt like it might actually happen early in 2014.

This week, with a March 31 deadline that would trigger a 24 percent cut to Medicare physician payments fast approaching, it appears we’re heading for another temporary fix, but even that got very complicated.

Approaching midnight on Tuesday evening, the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would preserve physician compensation levels for one year. The bill also included a provision that would extend the ICD-10 compliance date by one year to Oct. 1, 2015.

The ICD-10 provision set off a flurry of protest, as the American Medical Association, American Health Information Management Association, American College of Physicians and others all issued strong statements criticizing the bill, and some launching social media campaigns to push House members to oppose the ICD-10 provision.

The bill was headed for a vote midday Thursday, but at that point, passage was in doubt. After a 40-minute debate, it appeared the vote would be postponed until some political trickery in the form of a very quick “voice vote” was used to pass the bill.

So now we wait for Monday, when the Senate will take up the bill on the final day before the physician payment cuts kick in. The American College of Radiology issued a statement urging the Senate to pass the bill, and the college also threw support behind the ICD-10 delay and the bill’s provision requiring providers to consult appropriateness criteria when ordering advanced imaging for Medicare payments.

But the real wait—the wait for a permanent fix to the SGR problem—has been going on for years, and looks to continue for at least another year.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging