SGR repeal left out of federal $1.1 trillion spending bill

Medical professionals blasted last week's federal budget deal for failing to address the controversial sustainable growth rate (SGR) payment formula, MedPageToday reports.

The bill, which passed the Senate Saturday night after last week's approval from the House of Representatives, does not repeal the broadly unpopular formula, nor does it extend the current pay increase for primary care physicians who treat Medicaid patients.

"The medical community has been pushing hard to have the SGR addressed in a lame duck session because this is the only time the legislation has advanced in both houses in all parties of jurisdiction," Anders Gilberg, senior vice president for government affairs at the Medical Group Management Association's Washington office, told MedPage Today. "The policy was basically totally agreed on; the big impediment was paying for it ... Now we've totally hit the 'Reset' button on this issue."

Congress punted on the formula at what may have been an ideal time to repeal it, according to American College of Physicians President David Fleming, M.D. The Congressional Budget Office most recently projected a $138 billion price tag to repeal the SGR, the lowest projection in a long time. The current SGR patch, passed by Congress in March, will end on March 31, 2015, leaving little time for a long-term fix, according to Skin and Allergy News, and Congress will have fewer than 40 days to act between the beginning of its session in January and a 21 percent pay cut taking effect in April.

Shortly after approving the patch in May, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, was optimistic at the time about the possibility of a long-term solution, FierceHealthcare previously reported. "[Y]ou need to know we are working hard to get to a permanent solution that I hope is sooner than later," he told members of the American Hospital Association. "Medicare is in poor financial shape in the long haul. We can't save Medicare in the long term until we fix how we pay doctors for Medicare. And we are committed to getting it done."

To learn more:
- here's the MedPageToday article
- read the Skin and Allergy News article (subscription may be required)
- here's the bill