In light of Thursday’s bicameral, bipartisan release of a Medicare physician payment policy to permanently replace the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula – an achievement to be celebrated in its own right – some are seeing momentum toward passage of such a deal before the current doc fix expires on March 31.
But the scope of what the committees issued Thursday represents as much of a step back as a step forward, at least relative to their aspirations and timeline for accomplishing them.
Once the appointment of Senator Baucus to be Ambassador to China was announced, the committees agreed to make it “as far as they could” toward a comprehensive SGR replacement policy prior to his confirmation, including identifying offsets to pay for the $125-150 billion (over 10 years) bill. For those who missed it, Senator Baucus was confirmed on Thursday.
Only in the past week did the key committees acknowledge that achieving agreement on offsets by this deadline was unattainable, but finalization of the so-called “extenders,” a hodge podge of Medicare payment plus-ups and other polices perennially included with the doc fix, was still the goal.
(Recall that the Senate Finance Committee passed an SGR replacement bill with extenders in December, but their House counterparts have yet to do so.)
In negotiations on that extenders element, House Republican leads reportedly would not agree to include beneficiary-oriented policies, such as funding for outreach to Medicare enrollees regarding low-income subsidy programs and for Family-to-Family Health Information Centers.
While some Democrats involved in the talks may have been inclined to make this concession, others sharply objected, scuttling a deal on this front and demonstrating the difficulty of compromise on this relatively non-controversial topic.
Furthermore, and has always been the assumption, identifying offsets for the package continues to be an exponentially heavier lift than any other aspect of the process. On that front, the key camps have outlined their broad parameters for what they might accept.
House Republican leads desire and likely require meaningful cuts to ACA-related spending as well as a substantial balance of Medicare beneficiary-impacting cuts, such as those relating to premiums and coinsurance.