On February 17, Congress approved a measure to avert a 27 percent reduction in Medicare payments that was set to occur at the end of the month as part of their Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). The bill delays the impending cut in Medicare pay rates for the rest of the year.

The House of Representative voted 293-132 to pass the bill, and the Senate passed it by a 60-36 vote on the same day. The compromise made it necessary for legislators to find other areas to cut in the federal budget, since the Medicare payment cut amounts to $18 billion. One of the ways it will be made up for with cuts is certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including taking $5 billion from a $15 billion fund designed to pay for programs to prevent chronic disease over the next 10 years.

The bill also cuts over $4 billion in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments, which compensate teaching hospitals for treating some of the sickest patients in the medical system.

Among the opponents of the bill was Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who was in favor of the chronic disease prevention fund that was cut. Also opposed to the cut was The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. The group referred to cutting a third of the prevention fund as “short-sighted.”

“When will Congress stop using short-term, last-minute ‘doc fixes’? The SGR deficit will be over $600 billion in five years! It’s time to awaken to reality and accountability,” said Jack Lewin, MD, CEO of the American College of Cardiology.

Needless to say, doctors were happy with the fact that the 27 percent cut would not go into effect. However, doctor groups see it as a missed opportunity to permanently repeal the SGR. The American Medical Association and 109 other medical groups recently suggested using savings from cost projections for the war in Iraq to fund the SGR fix.