Calls increase for SGR repeal before month's end

Pressure is building on congressional leaders to hold votes to overhaul Medicare's flawed physician payment system before the end of March, when the current "doc fix" expires.

A coalition of healthcare provider groups threw their support behind the push Thursday despite signals that lawmakers will resort to another patch this month rather than repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR).

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"Another 9-, 12-, or 21-month 'doc fix,' would do little to reduce uncertainty for providers and beneficiaries and do nothing to curb long-term growth in health costs," the groups wrote to House and Senate leaders.

"Having advanced so far towards permanent reform, failure to act now could dim the prospects for such legislation later this year and for years to come."

Organizations that signed on included trade groups for dermatologists, family physicians, pediatricians, cardiologists, radiologists and surgeons, as well as one major pension fund.

Congress is nearer than it has ever been to enacting permanent SGR reform after several committees rallied behind an overhaul bill. Agreement on the terms does not, however, erase the difficulty of finding ways to pay for the measure.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the reform will cost $138 billion over 10 years, a price that would be hard to pay under normal circumstances and is all but impossible in an election year.

Newly installed Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRon WydenSenate passes college anti-Semitism bill Overnight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Senate Dems: Force Cabinet nominees to release tax returns MORE (D-Ore.) said this week that the process is still in the "heavy-lifting stage in terms of the pay-fors."

"We're going to have to make some tough calls," he told a gathering of hospital executives in Washington, D.C. "This is going to be a very challenging time. There is no way to pretend anything else."

Lawmakers' hesitation to pursue SGR repeal in an election year stems from their unwillingness to force votes on healthcare cuts that could endanger incumbents.

Thursday's letter was spearheaded by the National Coalition on Health Care, a wide-ranging stakeholder group.