Momentum builds for permanent 'doc fix'

Two key congressional committees have unveiled a proposal to end the annual "doc fixes."

Wednesday's draft from the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees outlines a gradual shift that would freeze doctor reimbursement rates for 10 years.

It would also provide bonuses to providers who embrace alternative payment models that reward quality of care. 

Lawmakers are hoping to enact a permanent repeal by Dec. 31 of the "sustainable growth rate" formula that reimburses doctors for Medicare, and move Medicare toward performance-based payments. 

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Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praised the proposal as an "important step" toward improving the program for patients and doctors alike. Physicians who treat Medicare patients are facing a pay cut of about 25 percent at the beginning of next year unless Congress acts before then.

"For years, Medicare payments to doctors have been at risk of being slashed, limiting seniors' access to high quality care," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in a statement.

"Enough with the quick fixes. Our proposal is for a new physician payment system that rewards value over volume. It will go a long way in improving the efficiency and quality of care for America's seniors."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved its own replacement package in July, but no panel has given details on how to pay for the reform — a crucial step that is sure to prompt wrangling among healthcare players intent on avoiding cuts.

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