Budget deal & cardiology: The bottom line

Budget legislation tops the Senate’s docket this week after the House of Representatives agreed to give the sustainable growth rate (SGR) issue a three-month reprieve. Here is a look at how that is likely to affect cardiology if the Senate follows suit.

Interventional cardiologists will experience an average 1.6 percent bump in fees during the first quarter of 2014, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) calculated. The increase comes from a 0.5 percent rise in the SGR plus changes in the Medicare Fee Schedule for 2014. Those changes included an approximate 1.1 percent increase in the average relative value unit payments for invasive and interventional procedures.

The SGR was set to kick in Jan. 1 with a 24 percent cut in physician fees. The House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee had unanimously supported repealing the SGR formula. The House passed a budget deal that included the short-term fix on the SGR and the Senate is expected to act this week.

Lawmakers then will have until March 31 to iron out legislation that permanently repeals the SGR.

Societies advocating for cardiologists, cardiology administrators and subspecialists welcomed what could be the end of a decade-long practice of overriding the SGR.    

“Removing the uncertainty caused by the sustainable growth rate formula is a positive step for physicians and their patients,” American College of Cardiology President John G. Harold, MD, said in a statement. “Eliminating this flawed system rather than providing last-minute fixes year after year will allow physicians to focus on providing quality patient care.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) also voiced support for the budget agreement and encouraged lawmakers to quickly pass the legislation. AHA President Mariell Jessup, MD, recommended that funding be found to replace sequester cuts to the National Institutes of Health.

“Every day that passes without this support moves us further away from new treatments and cures for two of the top killers of Americans, heart disease and stroke,” she said. “Medical research is vital to creating jobs and, more importantly, saving lives. We hope the budget committee members remember that when they move on to the next lap of this race—a critical one for the health of all Americans.”

Earlier, SCAI reported that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also revised its stance on a proposed cap on in-office procedures. “SCAI and other groups fought this proposal, earning the backing of the American Medical Association, by demonstrating that the CMS was making comparisons that were neither fair nor complete. Had CMS proceeded as originally proposed, payments for some in-office peripheral procedures would have been cut by up to 40 percent, costing interventional cardiologists more than $60 million.”