Image of nurses' hands at computer keyboard

Fixing Medicare’s broken physician payment system is a “must pass” order of business, a key Senate leader said on Tuesday.

The statement from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is the latest sign that Sustainable Growth Rate reform will be among the first priorities for the recently convened Congress. With this in mind, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living recently launched a comprehensive lobbying effort to encourage smart SGR reforms.

The SGR formula for determining physician payments has proven unworkable, and for years Congress has been enacting temporary patches. To offset the cost of these patches, other providers — including in the long-term care sector — have seen reimbursements slashed.

A bipartisan, bicameral solution to the SGR problem is possible, Hatch said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. With the new Republican majority in the Senate, Hatch took over the committee chairmanship from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who also has called for a permanent solution.

A permanent fix might not be realistic in the current political climate, sources in Washington recently told McKnight’s. However, a long-term patch that lasts until the next presidential administration is being contemplated.

More details should emerge today and tomorrow, during a two-day SGR hearing held by the House Committee on Ways and Means. AHCA/NCAL — the nation’s largest long-term care provider association —  also has promised to release SGR policy proposals in the near future.

If Congress does not pass a “doc fix” by March, physicians will face a payment cut of about 20%.