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Baucus Announces Physician Payment Changes

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 22, 2009

In opening the first day of what could turn into a lengthy hearing on the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare reform bill, committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said today, "The time has come to reform America's healthcare. The times demand nothing less."

Baucus appeared confident this morning that work by the panel on the bill—which has had 564 amendments proposed for it—could be completed by the end of the week. "I look forward to constructive floor debate starting at early as next week," he said.

Even with midnight sessions, however, this could be a tough row to hoe. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which approved its healthcare reform bill two months ago, took 13 days (with 54 hours and 23 markup session) to address hundreds of amendments as well.

To get the ball rolling, Baucus will introduce a revised Chairman's Mark later today. At least one of the changes will deal with physician payment. "At one point, I want to acknowledge up front that we did not do as much to correct the payment of doctors—especially as I would have liked under the incredibly misnamed sustainable growth rate (SGR)," he said. "The SGR needs to be fixed permanently. I look forward for further progress on this."

Baucus described his mark as "a balanced, common sense plan” that takes the "best ideas from both sides"--that is designed to get the 60 votes in the Senate that it needs to pass. "All Americans should have access to affordable quality healthcare coverage," he said.

However, the Chairman's Mark appeared to get little solid endorsement from the entire Finance panel, which has 13 majority members and 10 minority members. Votes for amendments are expected to follow along party lines. Senate Finance Committee Minority Leader Charles Grassley (R-IA) said that pressure was placed on having the bill done "right now instead of having it done right."

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