Providers holding breath for Senate 'doc fix' vote

Ryan told reporters the House would not approve any patch, or “doc fix,” should the Senate not follow the House's lead.
Ryan told reporters the House would not approve any patch, or “doc fix,” should the Senate not follow the House's lead.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Senate leaders announced early Friday morning that they would delay a vote on this bill until after the chamber's two-week recess, which begins upon adjournment today. “There's every reason to believe it's going to pass the Senate by a very large majority," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters, adding that the bill would be taken up "quickly." Veteran observers say that if Congress acts quickly enough after the recess, or administers some kind of brief patch before fully adjourning, actual payments to doctors should not be interrupted.

As expected, the House of Representatives on Thursday repealed the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), earning loud praise from the American Health Care Association.

The measure passed by a vote of 392-37, a margin so large, some believe it will add pressure on the Senate also to approve it. The legislation includes a capped market basket payment increase of 1% in fiscal 2018 for skilled nursing operators.

For the long-term care industry, the SGR repeal would end years of worrying about how much of their funding would be sacrificed to avoid Medicare physician rate cuts.

The House version of the bill also provides a two-year extension of the therapy caps exception process, relief from the therapy manual medical review, as well as “long-term stability to the profession,” AHCA said in a prepared statement.

“This is great news for the long-term and post-acute care sector, and we applaud the House for moving so quickly and overwhelmingly,” said Mark Parkinson, AHCA president and CEO. “A permanent solution will help millions of patients, residents and their families.”

Meanwhile, AHCA urged the Senate to act quickly on the measure before next Tuesday's deadline, which would trigger a 21% drop in Medicare rates for physicians without Congressional approval of the bill. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters the House would not approve any patch, or “doc fix,” on the impending rate cut, should the Senate not follow the House's lead.

Both chambers of Congress are expected to go on a two-week recess at the close of business Friday, meaning the Senate would have less than 24 hours to debate and pass the bill.

At least one Senator voiced opposition to the measure. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has publicly opposed the bill's $214 billion price tag, and on Thursday, he reportedly called for another patch instead of quick movement on the bill, which does not have enough spending offsets for his liking.