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One-year Medicare pay freeze proposed in House

A House Republican is urging his colleagues to approve legislation that prevents deep cuts to Medicare payment rates in 2013.

Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R, Texas), is pushing House leadership to schedule a vote on his bill, the Assuring Medicare Stability and Access for Seniors Act of 2012, months before the lame-duck session of Congress that will occur after the November elections. The bill, introduced on July 20, would extend 2012 Medicare and Tricare payment rates through 2013.

The legislation offers certainty to Medicare beneficiaries and physicians, Dr. Burgess said. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula will cut physician pay by 27% in 2013. Congress has several other large fiscal issues, such as expiring tax cut provisions and mandatory across-the-board spending reductions, to address during a tight legislative calendar before next year.

Virtually all lawmakers agree that the SGR cut should not be allowed to reduce payment for Medicare services, Dr. Burgess said. However, the common belief in Washington is that legislation to stop the cut won’t be adopted until December.

“Let’s do the December work in July and August and not leave it for the lame-duck session,” he said. “I don’t want a doc fix to get lost in the din of the lame-duck session.”

The House was set to adjourn for its summer recess on Aug. 3. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington on Sept. 10 for eight legislative days that month and five additional workdays beginning Oct. 1. The lame-duck Congress will begin Nov. 13.

Passage of Dr. Burgess’ bill would not be contentious, he said. In February, the current Congress adopted a similar payment patch for 2012. Passing his bill sooner would ensure that Medicare rates are stabilized well before the federal government hits its so-called fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.

Work on a permanent repeal of the SGR and reform of the payment delivery system will continue, he said. Various committees in the House and Senate held hearings during the spring and summer on eliminating the SGR.

Others in Congress have proposed legislation to prevent the 2013 SGR cut. Recently, Sen. Rand Paul, MD (R, Ky.), introduced a bill repealing the SGR, but it offsets the cost of boosting doctor pay by eliminating provisions of the health system reform law. Reps. Joe Heck, DO (R, Nev.), and Allyson Schwartz (D, Pa.) also have offered a bill that repeals the SGR by redirecting unspent war funds.

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