In an 11th-hour maneuver before adjourning for holiday recess, the US House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill that delays for 2 months a 27.4% Medicare physician payment reduction that would have taken effect Jan. 1. The bill passed by voice votes with no debate in both houses. President Barack Obama immediately signed the bill into law.
The measure also extends the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. Congressional leaders are expected to resume deliberations on long-term extensions after Jan. 1.
The original House version of the bill, passed Dec. 13, called for a 2-year delay of the Medicare payment cut and extension of the payroll tax cut. On Dec. 17, the Senate passed a bipartisan compromise measure that called for a 2-month extension of the payroll tax cut and current Medicare physician payment rate. The House rejected the measure and voted to send the bill to conference Dec. 20. House Republican leadership changed course Dec. 23, allowing the extension and more time for debate after the holiday recess.
The physician payment cut results in part from the sustainable growth rate (SGR), a key factor in annual Medicare payment updates. The American Medical Association and various other medical societies have called for the SGR to be amended or repealed.