KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Congress Closes In On Permanent Fix To Medicare Doctors’ Payments

With a bipartisan budget deal behind it, Congress may be on the verge of solving the way it makes Medicare payments to doctors. Meanwhile, national spending on health care is growing at the slowest pace ever recorded, according to The New York Times.

The Washington Post: Senate Passes Bipartisan Budget Agreement
Congressional leaders appointed Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to negotiate a cease-fire. The resulting agreement would roll back sharp spending cuts known as the sequester over the next two years, sparing the Pentagon from more reductions and restoring billions of dollars for domestic programs. The $62 billion cost would be more than covered by $85 billion in alternative policies, such as higher security fees for airline passengers, deeper cuts for Medicare providers and less generous retirement benefits for federal workers, including military retirees younger than 62. The deal makes no effort to solve the nation’s biggest budget problem: a social safety net strained by an aging population. But it also would not raise taxes or reduce Medicare benefits, leaving each party’s core ideological commitments intact (Montgomery, 12/18).

The New York Times: Growth In U.S. Health Care Spending Slows
Nationally, spending on health care is growing at the slowest pace ever recorded. Annual spending on health care often grew more than 10 percent a year during the 1970s and ’80s. Growth dipped in the 1990s, only to rise again, but starting in the early 2000s, the rate began falling. It is now just about 4 percent a year. Yet in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, just 5 percent of all Americans — and 3 percent of uninsured respondents — said that health care spending has moderated. Half of respondents said that costs have been going up at a faster rate lately (Lowrey, 12/18). 

NPR: Congress Poised To Permanently Fix Its Medicare Payment Glitch
The two-year budget deal approved by the Senate Wednesday aims to prevent another government shutdown. It also includes a familiar annual rider — language to avert a steep pay cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients. But this time might be different, with a fix that lasts. After more than a decade of temporary solutions, it appears Congress may be on the verge of permanently solving its persistent problem in the way it makes Medicare payments to doctors. The problem was actually created by Congress itself, back in 1997, through a flawed formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR. And every year since 2002, when the formula first began calling for cuts, the SGR has created political and fiscal fits for lawmakers (Rovner, 12/19).

Medpage Today: Senate Agrees To 3-Month SGR ‘Patch’
The Senate on Wednesday passed a budget that includes a 3-month "patch" to delay a 24 percent cut to physicians' Medicare payments set to begin Jan. 1 under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) reimbursement formula. Senators voted 64-36 on the bill, which sets federal spending levels for the rest of fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. Lawmakers must still fill in actual spending bills for specific government expenditures, now that they agree on the overall level of federal spending (Pittman, 12/18).

CQ HealthBeat: ‘Doc Fix’ Passage Gives Lawmakers Three Months Of Breathing Room
With Wednesday’s passage of a three-month payment patch, lawmakers have given themselves a little extra time to work on major legislation overhauling how Medicare pays physicians (Ethridge, 12/19).

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