The House of Representatives has approved the Physician and Therapy Relief Act of 2010 (H.R. 5712), a short-term Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) patch. H.R. 5712 extends the current patch through December 31, 2010, delaying a 23% cut in physician’s Medicare reimbursement scheduled for December.

“Today, Congress staved off a Medicare meltdown for seniors, but this short-term reprieve ends when a 25% Medicare cut to physicians begins January 1,” said Cecil B. Wilson, MD, president, American Medical Association, in a statement issued November 29. “While this short-term delay helps ensure that physicians can continue to care for seniors for the next month; congressional action early in December to stop the cut for 1 year will inject stability into the Medicare program and ensure that Medicare delivers on its promise of health coverage for America’s seniors. It is crucial that Congress act well before the January 1 deadline so there are no disruptions in care for seniors.“

To pay for the bipartisan $1 billion month-long extension, the Senate redirected projected savings derived from a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy that reduces payments for multiple therapy services provided to patients in 1 day to the SGR patch. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) indicated that they will continue to work on a year-long SGR fix through 2011, which is sought by the Obama Administration and many in the physician advocacy community. The primary stumbling block to long-term SGR reform remains the significant cost, which is estimated between $300 billion and $400 billion over 10 years.

“The oldest Baby Boomers will ring in the New Year as the first of their generation to turn 65 and will begin relying on Medicare,” said Wilson. “Congress is responsible for ensuring that the Baby Boomers can see a doctor through Medicare by enacting long-term reform next year of the broken Medicare physician payment system. The AMA urges Congress to build on the bipartisan action that delayed this year’s cut and act in December to stop the cut for 1 year so that Congress has time to work on a long-term solution.”