The bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Ways & Means Committee, and Senate Finance Committee have released a consensus Medicare physician fee schedule reform bill expected to be considered by Congress before the latest temporary payment patch expires at the end of March. Highlights of H.R. 4015, the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act, include the following:

  • The bill would repeal the statutory “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) provision, which has called for deep cuts in Medicare rates in recent years. Congress has routinely stepped in to override the full application of the formula – most recently replacing a 20.1% cut scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2014 with a 0.5% update for the first three months of 2014 – but H.R. 4015 would offer a permanent fix.
  • For five years (2014-2018) the bill would provide annual Medicare physician fee schedule updates of 0.5% during a transition period to a new quality-based system (thus for 2014, the temporary 0.5% update in place through March would be extended for the full year). 
  • Three current physician quality programs would be consolidated into a single value-based program called the “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System,” which starting in 2018 would tie payment to performance in four categories: quality; resource use; electronic health record meaningful use; and clinical practice improvement activities. Quality measures will be developed and updated in consultation with physicians and other stakeholders.
  • The bill would provide bonus payments to providers who receive a significant portion of their revenue from an alternative payment model (APM) or patient centered medical home (PCMH); the threshold would begin at 25% in 2018 and increase over time. 
  •  The measure includes a number of other provisions designed to improve payment accuracy for individual provider services, promote appropriate use criteria for certain advanced diagnostic imaging services, expand care coordination for individuals with chronic care, and expand the use of Medicare data for transparency and quality improvement.

A formal budget estimate for the package has not yet been released, although earlier versions of the plans have had 10-year costs of more than $121 billion over 10 years. The Committees have not yet identified what “offsets” would be used to pay for the package, but cuts impacting a broad range of health care provider types, health plans, and drug manufacturers have all been unofficially floated as options.