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Congress postpones Medicare physician payment cuts to 2014

A cut in Medicare physician payments of almost 26.5 percent scheduled to take effect Tuesday was averted when President Barack Obama signed HR 8 the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on Wednesday. Earlier this week, the Senate voted 89-8 to approve the package, and the House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 257-167. Several health provisions are included in the package, including the extension of current Medicare physician payment rates through December 31, 2013, and a two-month delay of sequestration cuts (reducing Medicare payments by 2 percent and larger cuts to other health programs).

The package also extends the Geographic Work Adjustment floor through December 31, 2013, and includes ways to create a path to improve the provision of relevant and timely data to physicians, which is needed in new delivery and payment models. In addition, the bill provides one-year reauthorization of funding for the National Quality Forum and allows physician participation in clinical registries to meet Medicare quality reporting requirements.

“The extension of the Geographic Work Adjustment floor is particularly significant to a state like Wisconsin, which is nationally known as a state where its health care professionals consistently deliver high-quality, low-cost care,” said Wisconsin Medical Society CEO Rick Abrams. “Without the extension of the Geographic Work Adjustment Floor for at least another year, some of our health systems stood to lose more than $1 million each. This result would have severely hampered all of our continuing efforts to provide the highest quality of care to all Wisconsin residents.”

The $25 billion cost to avoid the cut required by the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and other expenses were offset with numerous provisions, including a reduction in payments for advanced imaging services based on a change in assumptions regarding the utilization of equipment. Proposals to eliminate the increase in Medicaid payments for primary care and the remaining funds for prevention covered under the Affordable Care Act were not adopted.

A summary of the Medicare and other health provisions in HR 8 is available on the American Medical Association (AMA) website.

Members of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation voting in favor of the compromise legislation were Sens. Ron Johnson and Herb Kohl along with Reps. Paul Ryan, Gwen Moore, Reid Ribble, Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin. Reps. Sean Duffy, Tom Petri and Jim Sensenbrenner voted against the measure.

“The Society wishes to recognize our Wisconsin congressional delegation, the Society’s government relations staff, the Healthcare Quality Coalition (in which the Society actively participates) and the American Medical Association for all of their very effective effort in a very challenging political environment,” said Abrams, adding that the Society will continue to work with its Congressional delegation for a more permanent solution to the flawed SGR rather than the temporary patches by Congress since 2003.


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