Like clockwork the doc fix debate is back and it's a painful yearly ritual in DC. The doc fix, which refers to how to deal with Medicare's sustainable growth formula, causes heartburn for legislators and physicians alike, and every year hope springs eternal that a permanent fix will be found. This year's hopes, at least short term, were dashed by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, during a speech before the American Medical Association (AMA).
Price told AMA members that full repeal wasn't possible before the last legislative patch expires on March 31, so the most likely scenario is yet another patch - something in the neighborhood of a four to six month deal. Congress has passed 17 different short-term legislative patches to deal with the problem. If the current patch was allowed to expire on March 31, Medicare payments to doctors would be reduced by 21 percent.
But all hope is not lost, at least not for a permanent fix at some point this year. Price, a physician himself, said that full repeal is likely by the end of the fiscal year (September 30) and that it is likely to be tied to extending funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Tying a permanent doc fix to CHIP re-authorization is not, however, a silver bullet. There are other lawmakers who hope to use CHIP re-authorization as a vehicle for other competing legislative priorities.