SENATORS INTRODUCE BILL TO LIMIT AUTHORITY OF SECRETARY OF HHS: Last week, Senators Tom Coburn, MD (R-OK), John Barrasso, MD (R-WY), Rand Paul, MD (R-KY) and John Boozman, OD (R-AR), introduced, S. 2278, the Safeguarding Care of Patients Everywhere Act (SCOPE ACT). This legislation aims to protect the physician-patient relationship endangered by repealing section 1311(h) of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the Senators, this provision grants the authority to the Health and Human Services Secretary to determine whether a doctor is providing “quality health care measures” and can prohibit health insurers from working with medical providers who don’t meet Secretary-established criteria for quality. This Senate bill is a companion to a House bill that was previously introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA). At this time there is little legislative activity to report; however, NASS will continue to monitor this legislation and provide any updates as they become available.
HOUSE PASSES SGR LEGISLATION WITH CONTROVERSIAL OFFSET: Last Friday, the House passed (238-81) legislation to replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR) that is paid for by delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate for 5 years. The vote was passed mostly on party lines, with 12 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The House bill is not expected to be considered by the Senate, as Democratic leaders have indicated that the offsets were a non-starter for negotiations in that chamber.
SGR BALL IS NOW IN THE SENATE’S COURT: Senate Democrats are expected to bring an SGR bill (S. 2110) to the floor later next week that is compromised of the same SGR replacement policy as the House bill. However, unlike the House bill, the Senate’s bill contains zero offsets and incorporates additional Medicare riders, collectively known as “extenders.” Senate Finance Committee staff have indicated to NASS that their aim between now and next week’s Senate vote will be to convince as many Senate Republicans to support S. 2110. At this time it’s unclear whether Democrats can muster enough votes in the Senate to pass a stand-alone SGR bill without a payfor. When asked how Senate Democratic leaders were planning to persuade their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to pass their bill without offsets, Committee staff indicated that they were very confident in being able to reach an agreement on offsets once the Senate bill is passed. In other words, Democratic Senators are asking Republicans to take a leap of faith by voting to pass the SGR replacement bill without any offsets, and at the same time, giving Republicans assurances that a deal on payfors will be made once the bill goes to a conference between the House and Senate. This course may ultimately be the last path for the SGR to get across the finish line in time before another patch is set to expire by April 1, 2014.
NASS URGES CONGRESS TO ACT BEFORE APRIL FIRST DEADLINE: Last week, NASS sent a letter to House and Senate offices expressing support for the SGR replacement policy that was agreed upon by the three original authoring committees – House Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce and Senate Finance. In the letter, NASS also cautioned lawmakers over the use of partisan payfors that could be used to derail the bi-partisan spirit of the original legislation. NASS will continue to urge all Members of Congress to seek a bi-partisan solution to offset the cost of repealing the SGR. Additionally, NASS will once again gin up its grassroots efforts and urge NASS members to continue to send letters on the SGR to their federal legislators. NASS’ previous call to action generated nearly 500 messages to 104 House and 70 Senate offices.