Few may remember the last time both houses of Congress firmly agreed on much, but it happened on Thursday when both hammered out a historical bipartisan deal that prevents drastic Medicare cuts to physicians by taking funding from others. The “doc fix” that ends the Sustainable Growth Rate formula drew at least one long-term leader’s sharp criticism.
The $213 billion deal, which is still to be voted on in both houses, will be partially financed by $35 billion in cuts to Medicare beneficiaries’ benefits. About another $35 billion will come from cuts in provider payment increases.
“Enough is enough,” said LeadingAge President and CEO Larry Minnix in a prepared statement. “Our sector already has to contend with reduced market basket updates under the Affordable Care Act, 2% Medicare sequestration scheduled to last until 2024, reduced reimbursement for bad debt largely attributable to states’ refusal to cover dual eligibles’ patient responsibility payments, an 11% across-the-board cut in payments to skilled nursing facilities, and the rebasing of home health reimbursement.”
Minnix also criticized the absence of a plan to fully repeal caps on Medicare coverage of outpatient therapy. The caps were implemented in 1997 in a bungled effort to curtail Medicare spending, Minnix said.
“The therapy caps … have never saved any money,” Minnix said. “If the caps now are imposed on Medicare beneficiaries, they will lead to untold suffering, increased hospitalizations, and huge out-of-pocket costs for elders who have experienced serious illnesses and injuries.”
As expected, Democrats received promises to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program by just two years. Further details on the offsets are expected to be released soon. House leaders have said they want to bring the bill to the floor for a vote next week.
If Congress fails to pass Thursday’s deal by April 1, Medicare rates for physicians will drop 21%.