- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

Capitol Hill lawmakers took a bipartisan stride Thursday toward solving a festering problem in American health care — how to pay doctors through Medicare.

Key committees in the Senate and House green-lighted bills to scrap the “doc fix” — a yearly fiscal patch that’s used to thwart a haircut to doctors’ reimbursements under Medicare, even if the formula in place since 1997 calls for a cut.

Lawmakers said Thursday’s bills would repeal the formula, or “Sustainable Growth Rate,” and replace it with payment system that emphasizes quality of care over the number of services a doctor provides.

“Enough is enough,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said. “After a decade of Band-Aid solutions, it is time for this committee to act. I am proud to say that today we are taking the first step.”

Mr. Baucus’ committee passed the Senate version by voice vote, and the House Ways and Means Committee approved its bill 39-0.

The markups offered a rare sight on Capitol Hill — Republicans and Democrats seeing eye to eye on health reforms, while the bare-knuckled brawl over Obamacare rumbles on.

Members of both parties said they were driven by the desire to provide year-over-year certainty to doctors and the seniors under their care.

“After years of temporary patches, we are now closer to providing real security and stability for our nation’s seniors and the doctors that care for them,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, said.

“We need to take advantage of all the bipartisan, bicameral progress that has been made on the underlying policy, especially given the reduced cost of replacing the current formula.”

For years, lawmakers had been exploring ways to repeal the way physicians are paid under the health entitlement for seniors and replace it with a more predictable model.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office significantly lowered its estimate of what it would cost to repeal the formula — and pay doctors the current rate — from $245 billion over the course of 10 years to $138 billion.

While the drastic reduction in its price tag makes the goal more viable, the question of pinpointing the offsetting cuts remains a difficult one that has yet to be resolved.