Senate passes one-month 'doc fix'

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee shepherded through a one-month "doc fix" Thursday paid for by cuts to payments for certain therapy services.

The goal is to have the House pick up the bill after the Thanksgiving recess, on Nov. 29 or 30. Doctors would see a 23 percent cut in their Medicare payments under the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula on Dec. 1 if the House doesn't act before then.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Working together, we have set a path to ensure seniors and military families can continue to get quality health care," Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a joint statement. "This agreement makes certain that seniors and military families can be confident they will be able to see a doctor and get the medicines they need."

"Once signed into law by the President, it will mean that seniors and military families are spared the threat of a lapse in care," Baucus said in a statement after the bill was passed in the Senate. "The next step is moving on to finding a yearlong extension before this fix runs out.”

The patch retains a 2.2 percent update in physician payments through the end of the year.

Baucus and Grassley also agreed they would work together to pursue a year-long fix to the formula that could be enacted before the month-long patch expires. Doctors' groups had asked for a 13-month fix to give lawmakers time to find a permanent solution.

The bill — called the "Physician Payment and Therapy Relief Act of 2010" — would cost $1 billion over 10 years. This would be offset, according to a summary, by reducing by 20 percent payments for multiple therapy services provided to patients in one day.

The cut to physical therapists is not as steep as a 25 percent cut that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had already been considering — hence the words "Therapy Relief Act." But whereas the savings from those therapy cuts were initially supposed to be redistributed to participants in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, the Senate proposal would use them instead for the doc fix.

"The short version," said a former Republican staffer closely involved with the SGR, is that the Finance Committee is telling doctors to "pay for your own doc fix."

This post was updated from an earlier version

More in Senate

Senate passes bill to prioritize Ebola treatments

Read more »