Overworked from budget passage, Senate recesses before SGR repeal vote

The Senate is going to wait more than two weeks before its takes action on a bill to repeal the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) and avoid an imminent 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians. Despite the fact that the physician pay cuts are scheduled to take place on April 1, 2015, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announced that they would not take up the SGR issue until April 13, 2015. There was some advance warning for Medicare physicians. On March 24, 2015, CMS emailed physicians to warn them that the agency was preparing to implement the payment reduction as of April 1, 2015. At that time, CMS informed doctors that it would update them again on April 11, 2015 (see Countdown to April 1: CMS, docs prepare for cut in case SGR isn’t fixed, Health Law Daily, March 25, 2015).

H.R. 2

On March 26, 2015, the House passed H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. If enacted, the bill would make changes to the Medicare physician payment system, notably through the SGR repeal, but would also extend several other expiring Medicare provisions. Additionally, the bill would make permanent certain Medicaid benefits, including the benefits for “qualified individuals” and the transitional medical assistance program (see House passes SGR repeal, March 26, 2015)

Delay

Following the House passage and President Obama’s endorsement of the bill, all that remains for final approval is a Senate vote. However, on Friday, the Senate took up a long session that led to the passage of the Senate budget resolution (see House passes budget, Senate to vote, and ACA remains in the crosshairs, Health Law Daily, March 26, 2015). Now, the Medicare payment issue will have to endure a two-week lapse, while Senators take a recess, before it goes under further consideration. Despite the time lag, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) indicated that the delay would not result in lower payments to Medicare physicians, explaining that the lag time that is inherent in Medicare payment processing means that the payment fix can be done a little late.

Criticism

The Senate has received some backlash as a result of its decision not to move ahead with the SGR repeal immediately. Congressman Kevin Brady, (R-Texas) had strong words for the decision, saying “The Senate shouldn’t have left town without acting. I embrace the assurances they’ll act next month, but it’s hard to find an adequate reason for leaving our local Medicare seniors and doctors in yet another lurch, or delaying the first real reforms to save Medicare for the long term.” Additionally, the American College of Physicians (ACP) expressed disappointment that the Senate took a recess before passing the legislation and said that “doctors and patients must hold the Senate accountable for not passing SGR repeal.”