Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have released a draft bill that would eliminate the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula that they say has a good chance of being enacted.
Physician groups have been involved in the crafting of the draft, which was first circulated in early February.
"This discussion draft carries on the trend of soliciting more provider feedback than at any point in history on this issue," Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) said in a statement. "We are taking an important next step with this release by showing providers that we are committed to repealing the SGR and maintaining the option of fee-for-service for providers, while improving the Medicare program."
Rep. Burgess, who is an ob.gyn., and also vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said that he and his colleagues looked forward to hearing more from physicians.
The draft legislation would repeal the SGR and replace it with a fee-for-service system that would put more emphasis on rewarding quality. Physicians would have a guiding hand in developing quality measures in conjunction with the secretary of Health and Human Services. They would also be given the ability to opt out of fee-for-service and practice instead under new delivery models like accountable care organizations or patient-centered medical homes.
"We are working to restore certainty, fiscal sanity, and we will responsibly pay for these reforms," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, in a statement. "We will continue working closely with Ways and Means Committee Chairman [Dave] Camp [R-Mich.] as well as maintain our ongoing dialogue with committee Democrats as we work toward long-term solutions in the effort to improve quality of care."
Physician groups were cautious about the proposal at press time. In a statement, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, said, "The Energy and Commerce Committee’s framework is another step in the important process of eliminating the SGR and moving toward new ways of delivering and paying for care that reward quality and reduce costs."
He said that the AMA "look[ed] forward to continuing to work to see that progress is made this year."
The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the proposal’s goal of establishing "a period of stable and predictable payment increases," and incentives to improve quality of care, said Dr. Jeffrey Cain, AAFP president, in an interview.
But by largely focusing on the fee-for-service payment system, the committee is overlooking the bigger picture of how physician payment affects health care costs and quality, he said. The AAFP would like to see an increase in pay for primary care because "investing in primary care would improve our country’s health care by increasing quality and decreasing overall costs by reducing unnecessary medical utilization," said Dr. Cain.
In early February, the American College of Physicians and several other groups lent their support to an SGR replacement bill that has elements similar to the Energy and Commerce draft. The bill, the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574), was introduced by Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Penn.) and Joe Heck (R-Nev.).
In early May, Rep. Schwartz commended the Energy and Commerce bill, noting that it shared principles in common with H.R. 574. The bill also showed "that there is common ground on a framework for fixing the Medicare reimbursement system," said Rep. Schwartz in a statement.
The Energy and Commerce Committee said that comments on its draft legislation would be accepted until June 10, at [email protected].
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