Congress Restarts “Doc-Fix” Talks as Med Groups Weigh-In

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Congressional lawmakers re-opened negotiations Tuesday over a deal to avoid deep cuts to Medicare reimbursements set to take effect March 1 based on the Sustainable Growth Rate formula. A deal before the end of the year extended Medicare physician payments for two months, along with an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. So far, the two sides are far apart on how to make up the $160 billion in revenue that would be lost if all three measures continued, based on a report in the New York Times. The cost of repealing the SGR, meanwhile, is worth about $290 billion over 10 years, according to the American Medical Association and 109 other medical societies that urged Congress this week to use savings from pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for a so-called “doc fix.” In an open letter to Congress, the groups called it “cleaning the books” to use previously allocated war funding to immediately repeal the SGR. Co-signers to the letter included multiple specialty societies such as the American College of Radiology. Barring elimination of the SGR altogether, lobbyists for the ACR are working to insert language that protects radiologists. Specifically, the group wants to prevent the multiple procedure payment reductions to the professional component of diagnostic imaging as well as require CMS to justify any further cuts to imaging, says Cynthia Moran, ACR assistant executive director for Government Relations and Health Policy. “We’re trying to get Congress to include that language, but we’re facing an uphill battle to get it into this conference report right now,” Moran tells The ACR may well be overshadowed by many other interests expected to piggyback on the legislation. Republicans once again signaled that they want to include approval of the Keystone oil pipeline. And Democrats may want provisions to increase taxes on the wealthy, according to The New York Times.