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House Passes SGR Fix, Senate Says It's DOA

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 14, 2014

Reacting to the vote, Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said she was disappointed to see the legislation mired in "partisan politics."

On a 237–182 mostly party line vote, House Republicans on Friday passed a bill that would eliminate the Sustainable Growth Rate Medicare funding formula for physicians, and pay for it by delaying for five years the individual mandate to buy health insurance, a central pillar of Obamacare.

Earlier this week Senate Democrats had warned that they would not consider the amended House version of HR 4015, the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act. The White House had also threatened to veto any attempt to delay the individual mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The two chambers are expected to extend a 17th temporary fix for the SGR, which otherwise expires on March 31 and slaps physicians with a 24% cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said Friday she was disappointed to see the legislation mired in "partisan politics." The usually studiously nonpartisan physicians' association leader placed blame squarely on the House leadership.

"While the House has not been able bridge this partisan divide to date, it is time to move forward," Hoven said in prepared remarks. "We thank all members who spoke on the floor in support of a return to bipartisan negotiations and encourage the United States Senate to proceed in a timely and bipartisan manner to advance legislation in that body." 

"Continuing the cycle of kicking the can down the road through temporary patches in the months ahead simply wastes more taxpayer money to preserve a bad policy of Congress' own making."

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) defended the vote and said the House had "acted to make a number of much-needed improvements to our nation's broken healthcare system."

"Medicare's current Sustainable Growth Rate is anything but sustainable, and this legislation provides the certainty and security that our seniors—and the physicians who treat them— desperately need," McMorris said in prepared remarks. "By protecting people from Obamacare's unfair individual mandate tax for five years, we have extended the same relief to all Americans that the President has already given to businesses with big checkbooks."

Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-PA) accused House Republicans of "threatening seniors' access to their doctors in order to advance a political agenda that would undermine quality, affordable health coverage for millions of Americans."

"For months, we have worked in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to develop a permanent solution for Medicare's broken physician payment system that has threatened seniors' access to care for more than a decade. Finding common ground on a responsible way to pay for a permanent SGR fix was never going to be easy, but that doesn't mean it should be used to score political points," Schwartz said in prepared remarks.


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.