AMA: Fix SGR in debt-ceiling deal

More than 100 groups representing doctors said Monday that an agreement on the U.S. debt ceiling should include a permanent fix to the formula that Medicare uses to pay doctors.

Republican negotiators have poured cold water on the idea of using the debt-ceiling vote to tackle the "sustainable growth rate" formula (SGR). But the American Medical Association and other doctors groups say the two go hand-in-hand.

The SGR has become a perennial headache for doctors and Congress alike. The formula calls for a payment cut of nearly 30 percent in January 2012 — when the latest temporary fix is set to expire. Congress consistently blocks scheduled cuts from taking effect, and has to come up with new offsets each time.

According to the AMA, a permanent SGR repeal would have cost $48 billion in 2005 — compared with a price tag of nearly $300 billion to block the cuts that are scheduled for January.

"An agreement on the debt ceiling legislation provides the best — and perhaps only — opportunity to ensure stability in Medicare payments, ensure continued beneficiary access to care, and address the SGR deficit in a fiscally responsible manner," the AMA and other organizations said Monday in a letter to President Obama.

The letter was signed by 112 medical groups.