Congress is in recess this week and will return Dec. 2. The Senate Finance Committee announced a Dec. 12 mark-up of the legislation to repeal the formula for determining Medicare physician payments, which is based in part on the sustainable growth rate (SGR), and reform the system. This legislation was created jointly by the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees. The committees released a proposal Oct. 31 to reform the fee-for-service payment system and “encourage(s) participation in alternative payment models.” Although the date is yet to be announced, the Ways and Means Committee is expected to mark up the SGR repeal and reform legislation sometime in the coming weeks (see “Congress considers health program extenders as part of replacing SGR” for more information).
The budget conference committee continues to work on an agreement to determine federal spending levels from now through the end of fiscal year 2015. House Republicans are starting to signal that the committee won’t meet its Dec. 13 reporting deadline but will instead pass a three-month continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government before members leave for the holiday recess. Congress is set to return to Washington Jan. 7, and the current CR is set to expire Jan. 15.
Democrats continue to be wary of healthcare.gov problems as they prepare for the midterm elections next fall. Although the Obama administration insists the website will be fixed by Dec. 1, the many Democrats facing tough elections next year are finding ways to distance themselves from President Obama and the health care law. Last week 39 House Democrats voted for a Republican-sponsored bill to allow consumers to keep their existing health plans. Others are holding the administration accountable for making the site work.