House votes to repeal SGR; Senate’s next

The House voted to eliminate the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that for years has threatened to cut physician payment from Medicare. Cardiovascular societies praised the move and encouraged the Senate to follow suit.

President Obama has signaled his support for the legislation, and has said he would sign “a good bipartisan bill.”

The SGR would cut Medicare physician fees by 21.1 percent if the patch instituted last year is allowed to expire on April 1. Congress has enacted temporary “doc fixes” since 2003 to provide continued reimbursement to physicians but it had not tackled the problem of amending or repealing the SGR. The formula, which dates to 1997, was designed to keep Medicare costs in line.     

"In voting to repeal the sustainable growth rate formula and replace it with a stable Medicare payment structure, the House has taken an important step towards solving a problem that has caused uncertainty for more than a decade for Medicare patients and for the clinicians who care for them," Kim Allan Williams Sr., MD, president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) said in a statement.

The ACC was one of hundreds of medical societies that urged Congress to put an end to the SGR in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) worked together on a bipartisan, bicameral policy. In recent days, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions and other societies have been urging members to contact their lawmakers about the issue.

The vote puts the ball in the Senate’s court, but the Senate may not address the topic before it adjourns for a two-week spring break on Friday. “We urge the Senate to follow suit and quickly take up and pass the provisions of the House measure, H.R. 2, before the expiration of the current SGR patch on March 31,” Williams said.

The proposal also addressed the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The ACC supported extending funding for the program, “which provides access to care for many children, including many born with serious cardiovascular conditions.” 

Besides immediately repealing the SGR, the bill would allow annual payment updates of 0.5 percent, beginning July 1, for four-and-a-half years; simplify Medicare quality reporting programs; and provide incentive payments in certain circumstances.