President Signs Latest 'Doc Fix' Bill into Law
On March 31, the Senate passed a one-year "patch" to the Sustainable Growth Rate ("SGR") that avoids a statutorily imposed 23.7% Medicare pay cut to physicians that was set to occur on Tuesday. The legislation (H.R. 4302) also extends the 2-midnight rule and corresponding prohibition on certain recovery audits for another six months and delays implementation of the ICD-10 coding system until October 1, 2015.
House Passes Children's Hospital Training Bill
On April 1, the House passed legislation that would reauthorize for five years a program that provides federal funding to children's hospitals to support medical resident training. The bill (S. 1557), which was passed by the Senate in November 2013, now heads to the President for signature.
The legislation reauthorizes the Children's Hospital Graduate Medical Education Payment Program at $300 million annually from FY 2014 through FY 2018. A decrease from the $330 million annually that was authorized from 2011 to 2013. However, the SGR "patch" that was passed this week includes a provision directing the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") to evaluate implementation of a program that would allow more hospitals to receive GME funding and set up a system for bonus payments.
CMS to Disclose Medicare Payment Rates to Doctors
CMS announced that it still plans to disclose a detailed account of $77 billion in payments made to more than 880,000 physicians in 2012. Medicare Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum announced the disclosure in letters sent this week to the American Medical Association and the Florida Medical Association.
The disclosure, which will occur on April 9, will be similar to last year's release of payment information on hospitals. It will list procedures performed by individual doctors, how much they charged for those procedures and how much they were reimbursed by the Medicare program. To protect patient privacy, CMS will not disclose information for any services that a physician performed on fewer than 11 people. Although individual patient information will remain off-limits, the files will identify physicians by name.
House Panel Approves Republican Budget Proposal with Medicare Changes
On April 2, the House Budget Committee adopted a FY 2015 budget blueprint on a party-line vote. The committee vote means the full House will most likely consider the budget measure on the week of April 17. The proposed budget, which was drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), would repeal the Affordable Care Act ("ACA"), add a private plan option to Medicare and convert federal Medicaid payments to states into block grants. The plan would also reform medical malpractice and increase means testing for Medicare Part B and Part D. The proposal is unlikely to move in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Bills Introduced This Week
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced a pair of bills amending title XVII of the Social Security Act. The first (S. 2186) would provide for a minimum payment rate for primary care services furnished by primary care physicians. The other (S. 2187) seeks a five year extension of the rural community hospital demonstration program.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced a bill (H.R. 4384) that would grant $150 billion in new health research funding. The legislation would set up a mandatory trust fund for NIH and other health programs including the Center for Diseases Control.
Next Week in Washington
On April 1, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the implications of the recently released final regulations implementing the employer mandate and employer information reporting requirement provisions of the ACA. On Thursday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president's budget. Once finished with its work for the week, Congress will take a two week recess for the Easter Holiday and return on April 28.