House may consider 'doc fix' next week

The House may consider legislation related to Medicare's flawed physician payment formula next week, although it is unclear whether the chamber will weigh a permanent or short-term "doc fix." 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced that the chamber could hold a vote pertaining to Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) in the final work week before the holiday recess.

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Physicians who accept Medicare payments are facing a pay cut of about 25 percent when the current fix expires on Dec. 31, putting pressure on Congress to act before next year.

There are signs that lawmakers may move forward on a permanent fix this month, though final passage appears unlikely as lawmakers rush to finish other work.

The House Ways and Means Committee announced that it may consider a bill replacing the SGR next week, but Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) did not say when the permanent fix might come to the floor.

"The Committee has made real progress on a bipartisan and bicameral bill," he said in a statement Thursday. "If that progress continues, I expect the Committee to consider the legislation before the end of next week."

The goal of repealing the SGR has eluded lawmakers for more than 10 years, but it appeared somewhat more likely after the Congressional Budget Office unexpectedly slashed the price of reform by more than $100 billion.

House leadership gave a "very big green light" to a permanent replacement this year, Ways and Means Health subcommittee chief Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in May.

But that momentum seems to have disappeared as health-oriented lawmakers focus on ObamaCare's troubled rollout. Congress is also hoping for progress on a small-scale budget deal and a farm bill before it leaves, leaving less time for other priorities.

It is almost certain that the House will pass a short-term fix if they don't find time for a permanent one before Dec. 13.

In the meantime, lawmakers are likely to tout any committee work on a replacement bill as a foundation for SGR reform next year.

The Ways and Means Committee unveiled a draft permanent fix in late October that would freeze doctor reimbursement rates for 10 years and provide bonuses to providers who embrace alternative payment models.

The plan was released in tandem with the Senate Finance Committee, and members praised the solution as a way to reward quality of care in a shift away from the current fee-for-service system.

Updated at 2:03 p.m.