Congress sent President Obama an early Christmas present – a 2-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and along with it, a 2-month delay of the looming 27% cut to Medicare physicians’ fees.
Bowing to pressure from all sides, House Republicans agreed Dec. 22 to pass a Senate-authored bill to extend the two key provisions. The Senate passed an amended version of its extension bill by unanimous consent on Dec. 23 and the House quickly followed suit.
By using the unanimous consent vote, congressional leaders were able to move the bill forward even though many members had already traveled home for the holidays.
The president signed the bill in short order.
The developments represent a reprieve for physicians who faced a 27% cut in their Medicare payments beginning Jan. 1 based on the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, which controls total spending on physicians’ services based on the gross domestic product.
Doctors’ groups expressed relief that the pay cut was averted, as well as dismay at Congress’ continued short-term fixes to the SGR problem.
"Eleventh-hour legislation that fails to meet the needs of constituents is no way to conduct the nation’s business. That is particularly true when millions of Americans’ health and welfare are at stake," Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement. "Americans are tired of short-term, insufficient answers to long-standing problems. Americans want a permanent solution. They want Congress to look beyond the next few months or the next year. They want health security. Instead, they got a bitter holiday gift – an extra 60 days before health insecurity again sets in."