Fiscal Cliff Stopgap Delays 'Doc Fix,' but Hits Hospitals

John Commins, January 3, 2013

There was more exasperation than applause coming from the major players in the healthcare sector this week after Congress approved a stopgap measure to delay until March 1 a trip off the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Passage in the House late Tuesday of the "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012" (HR8) essentially delayed most of the tax hikes and sweeping budget cuts that were to begin on Jan. 1. The Senate version passed early Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers in the 112th Congress congratulated one another on their willingness to work together to solve the problem they created entirely by themselves and then offered public promises to address questions unanswered when the 113th Congress convenes this week.

Impact on Physicians
The Taxpayer Relief Act features major provisions affecting funding of Medicare and Medicaid. The most significant healthcare provision is the continuation until Dec. 31, 2013 of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Sustainable Growth Rate, which had been scheduled for a draconian 26.5% cut on Jan. 1.

Word that the SGR cuts would be delayed for another year was met with a shrug from most physicians' associations. David L. Bronson, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, captured the reaction of most physicians' professional associations when he said in a media release that the Act "falls well short of ACP's goals of enacting a permanent replacement to the Medicare SRG formula and enacting a fiscally and socially responsible alternative to across-the-board cuts." 

"In the short term, this legislation helps ensure access to high-quality medical care for Medicare beneficiaries, and ensures that physician payments under Medicare will not be cut through 2013," Bronson said.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.


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