Congress disregards physician community
In surprising fashion, the U.S. House, followed by the U.S. Senate, passed HR 4302, the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014. The bill has now been signed by into law President Barack Obama. It prevented a 24 percent decrease in Medicare physician reimbursement that was scheduled to kick in on April 1,2014. The law averted the 24 percent cut in exchange for 0.5 percent continued increased payments over 2013 levels through the rest of 2014, but then includes a 0 percent update for the first three months of 2015. While preventing the 24 percent cut was the underlying premise for the law, what else is included and how it will get paid for is definitely more important to physicians in the long run.
The bill that was brought to the House floor came directly from a compromise worked out by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The 121-page bill was introduced on the evening of Wednesday, March 26, with a vote scheduled for the very next morning! Many members of congress were unaware that there was a vote scheduled, or what was in the bill, before it hit the House floor. The bill was taken up under a special provision whereby “noncontroversial” bills can be considered and voted on under “suspension of the rules” (e.g., debate limited to 40 minutes and no amendments allowed by members on the floor). But this bill certainly was controversial, as the debate showed. Despite significant “voice” (e.g., voice vote: only the members currently on the floor may vote) objection during a hastily called vote when many members of the House weren’t even in the chamber, the bill was considered “passed” by the House. Despite strong objection from the American Medical Association, ACEP, and the entire organized specialty houses of medicine, the Senate passed the bill and it has now been signed into law.
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