The Annual Medicare Doc Fix: Not as Bad as You Think!


Here’s a bit of contrarianism for you today: Austin Frakt says that the much-maligned Medicare “doc fix” actually works pretty well. This is Congress’s annual charade in which it overrides the formula for Medicare reimbursements to doctors, resulting in doctors getting paid more—but without ever changing the formula itself. (Why? Because changing the formula would cost money, and they’d have to figure out how to pay for it. Better to just kick the can down the road each year.)

So from one point of view, the formula is just a joke. However:

From another point of view, the formula — as flawed as it is — has helped keep Medicare spending lower than it might otherwise have been. Instead of cutting physician payments by the large amount the S.G.R. demands, Congress has increased payment rates, but typically by only tiny amounts — at an annual rate of just 0.7 percent. That pace does not keep up with the typical cost of care.

The gap can be seen in the chart below. The bottom line illustrates how Congress has permitted Medicare physician payments to grow. The middle line shows an index of medical spending — spending at a typical physician’s practice over time — that is a proxy for the change in price for a typical, or average, medical treatment.

….The relatively gentle increases in Medicare payment rates makes clear that the formula is not the problem. I think that the formula has actually helped Congress be more fiscally responsible than it otherwise might have been. To physicians who fear a double-digit decrease in payment rates called for by the formula, a 0.5 percent or a 1.5 percent increase that Congress passes looks like a great deal.

So there you go. Two cheers for the Sustainable Growth Formula!

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

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As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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