It's Time to Send Medicare Physician Payment Reform to the President’s Desk

U.S. CapitolFew legislative days remain before the current Medicare physician payment patch expires on April 1, 2015. If Congress fails to pass comprehensive Medicare physician payment reform by this self-imposed deadline, we will be confronting an 18th payment patch.

The old excuse that "there isn’t enough time" won’t work anymore. Congress has passed 17 payment patches over the past 12 years, and it’s been 11 months since the last one passed. That’s more than enough time.

For many years, there was little consensus about the system that would replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. That problem was finally resolved last Congress when a bipartisan, bicameral bill was developed and passed by the three committees with jurisdiction over Medicare.

That bill, known as the "SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014," was supported by more than 600 national and state medical societies and specialty organizations. It was also supported by other stakeholder groups, including patient and provider organizations, policy think tanks, and advocacy groups that span the political spectrum.

The legislation would not simply eliminate the flawed SGR formula. It also included meaningful physician payment and health care delivery reforms, as well as a viable pathway for developing and adopting them. By moving the program beyond its strict reliance on fee-for-service and making long-term implementation of alternative delivery and payment models possible, these bills represent real, structural change to the Medicare program and chart a course toward greater value and sustainability.

The hard work of the last Congress has not been lost; support for the underlying policies in these bills remains. The only obstacle remaining for this new Congress to pass the "SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014" is reaching agreement on budget offset issues.

Congressional leaders must engage in the same sort of bicameral, bipartisan process that was used to develop these bills, and reach consensus on a framework for budget offsets that can pass both chambers and be signed into law. Otherwise, the stalemate will continue.

We are asking members of Congress to urge their leaders to engage in a bipartisan, bicameral dialogue so we can all put the SGR behind us and start down the road to real Medicare reform. The election is over, and it is time for lawmakers to govern responsibly. Time is running short.

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