After nearly 14 years of advocacy and 17 temporary “patches,” on March 26, 2015 — by an overwhelming vote of 392-37 — the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which repeals Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) payment system. The legislation:
- Repeals the SGR, prevents the 21 percent Medicare pay cut and provides physicians a period of payment stability with positive updates;
- Consolidates the current Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Electronic Health Record (EHR) and Value-Based Payment Modifier (VM) programs and eliminates the penalties associated with these programs;
- Includes positive incentives for quality improvement payment programs that allow all physicians the opportunity to earn bonus payments;
- Enhances the ability of physicians, rather than the government, to develop quality measures and clinical practice improvement activities;
- Clarifies that quality improvement program requirements do not create new standards of care for purposes of medical malpractice lawsuits;
- Reverses the CMS decision to eliminate the 10- and 90-day global surgery payments; and
- Extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.
Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on the House-passed SGR deal before it adjourned in the wee hours of the morning for a two-week recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had filed a proposed unanimous consent agreement on H.R.2, which would have allowed for quick action on the bill last night. However, it only takes one Senator to object to this procedure, which happened, thereby preventing the bill from coming to the floor for a vote before recess.
Sen. McConnell has pledged that the Senate would take up the legislation “very quickly” immediately upon its return. He said that he and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will work together to schedule the vote on the bill. McConnell is optimistic that the Senate will have an easy time passing the bill stating that, “There’s every reason to believe [the bill] is going to pass the Senate by a very large majority.”
Earlier this week, President Obama signaled his strong support for this legislation stating, “I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill — which would be really exciting.” In addition to these remarks, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) officially offering the Obama Administration’s support for passage of H.R. 2.
Physicians need not immediately worry, however, that their payments will be slashed by 21 percent. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it plans to hold claims for services rendered on or after April 1, 2015. Electronic claims can be held for 14 calendar days and paper claims for 29 days.
To continue to build momentum for SGR repeal, neurosurgeons are encouraged to contact their senators urging them to act now and repeal the SGR once and for all. Click here to send an email message to Congress via the AANS/CNS Legislative Action Center. It takes less than 5 minutes to let your voice be heard, so we hope you will act today!