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Lawmakers express hopes for permanent Medicare 'doc fix'

Committee leaders in both the House and Senate expressed optimism Thursday that Congress could soon reform Medicare's flawed physician payment system.

The chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees urged quick progress on bills to repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, a goal that's eluded Congress for more than a decade.

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"Enough is enough. After a decade of Band-Aid solutions, it is time for this committee to act," said Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusGreen Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan Farmers hit Trump on trade in new ad MORE (D-Mont.).

Both panels were marking up bills Thursday that would repeal the SGR and replace it with a system moving Medicare toward value-based payments.

Doctors who serve Medicare patients are facing a pay cut of about 20 percent at the end of the year unless Congress acts.

While some lawmakers expected in the spring to approve a permanent "doc fix" by Dec. 31, that agenda was overtaken by the government shutdown and several other must-pass bills.

Now, a three-month "doc fix" could be passed alongside the budget agreement announced this week by Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThe risk of kicking higher ed reauthorization down the road Trump admin announces abstinence-focused overhaul of teen pregnancy program Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanScalise released from hospital after planned surgery GOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Impeaching Rosenstein? Some Republicans are talking about it MORE (R-Wis.), setting the stage for SGR repeal next year.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) noted that the time is ripe, given that the cost of overhauling the system is very low.

"The Congressional Budget Office has lowered the estimated cost of replacing the SGR to just over $116 billion over 10 years — more than half of the cost two years ago," Camp said.

The difficulty for lawmakers is finding and agreeing to pay-fors to offset the cost of reform. Healthcare stakeholders are tired of cuts and wary of any deal that might target them.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate Finance leaders call on Commerce to improve the tariff-exclusion process GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor House passes series of bills to improve IRS MORE (R-Utah) emphasized that the bill would be paid for, "period," and said those discussions would take place once the bills pass out of committee.