'Doc Fix' Bill Delayed in Senate

Despite apparent bipartisan support, a repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment formula will have to wait until at least mid-April.

Despite apparent bipartisan support, a repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment formula will have to wait until at least mid-April.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to repeal the roundly criticized Medicare payment formula and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 2 years. The so-called “Doc Fix” bill had been expected to pass the Senate and President Obama has said he would sign it.

Yet, the Senate failed to bring the matter to a vote during a marathon voting session Thursday night. That means the earliest the Senate could approve the repeal is April 13, following the Easter/Passover recess.

Robert M. Wah, MD, the president of the American Medical Association, said the delay could have serious financial implications for physicians.

“Their failure to act leaves physicians facing a devastating 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements when the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment patch expires on March 31,” Wah said, in a press release.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assured reporters the Senate would address the matter next month.

“They can handle a 2-week gap here,” McConnell said, according to Reuters, adding that he doesn’t believe the delay will significantly affect providers’ payments due to normal payment processing lags.

However, the postponement raises the potential for an erosion of support. Some Senate conservatives, including Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, have balked at the cost of the repeal and argued that Congress should instead pass another temporary fix. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the current bill would add $141 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.

The latest setback stoked frustration on the part of medical organizations, who have been lobbying for an SGR repeal for years.

"[The Medical Group Management Association] is extremely disappointed the Senate failed to act on permanent SGR repeal and will allow a 21% physician payment cut to take effect on April 1,” said Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, MMM, FAAP, president and chief executive of the group, in a press release. “We urge the Senate to vote to repeal the SGR immediately upon return from the April recess and remove its dark cloud over physician group practices."