Budget bill clears Senate

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The Senate passed a compromise budget agreement that includes a patch on the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula through March 31, 2014. The patch temporarily puts a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement on hold.

The Senate voted 64-36 to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The bill was passed earlier in the House on a 332-94 vote. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.

The bill sets overall discretionary spending for this fiscal year at $1.012 trillion, which includes $63 billion in sequester relief over two years. The relief will be split evenly between defense and nondefense programs. In fiscal year 2014, defense discretionary spending will total $520.5 billion, and nondefense discretionary spending $491.8 billion.

For many years, Congress has voted to override the SGR but it has not attempted to fix what many physicians and lawmakers describe as a flawed formula. Legislators now are calling for permanently repealing the SGR update and replacing it with other models such as fee-for-service physician payment with a value-based program.

The SGR was set to kick in Jan. 1. The House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee had unanimously supported repealing the SGR formula, and the House passed a budget deal that included the short-term fix on the SGR. Lawmakers then will have until March 31 to iron out legislation that permanently repeals the SGR.