The Senate adjourned around 3:30 a.m. Friday, March 27, 2015 without passing legislation to hold off a scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare physician payment rates.
Senate leadership was unable to get all 100 senators to agree to fast track a House-passed bill that would halt the reimbursement cut and transition the Medicare physician payment system into one that values quality outcomes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised the chamber would take up the measure “very quickly” when it returns on April 13.
The Medicare physician reimbursement cut will go into effect on April 1, however, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will hold Medicare claims until April 14, giving Congress a short window of time to pass retroactive legislation.
Before adjourning, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked Sen. McConnell to allow a few amendments to the House-passed bill when they take it up in two weeks, leaving an opportunity to alter the legislation before final passage.
On March 26, the House passed the bill, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2), in a rare bipartisan vote of 392-37. The bill would permanently repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that is responsible for the paycuts and replace it with a payment system designed to focus on quality instead of volume. It would provide an annual 0.5 percent payment increase for physicians through 2019 as the system transitions, and it would extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two additional years.
See our earlier post on this topic for more information about the bill.
Senate leaders are hoping to resolve some opposition to the bill before returning from recess. Senators on the left have voiced concerns about the length of the CHIP extension in the bill (two years instead of four), the increase in Medicare premiums for higher income seniors, and the abortion restrictions on community health centers. Some conservatives are opposing the bill because it would add about $141 billion to the federal deficit (over 10 years).
President Obama stopped just short of actually endorsing the House-passed bill, but said “I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill.”