December 11, 2006—A tax and trade bill, HR 6111, became the unlikely ride for a Medicare physicians’ pay package passed by Congress Friday. The bill, cleared by the Senate just before Congress’ adjournment for the year, delayed the scheduled 5% reduction in Medicare payments for physician services until 2008 by mandating a one-year freeze on the current Medicare conversion factor.

The Sustainable Growth Rate formula, in use by Medicare since 1997, will need to be adjusted this year in order to prevent future cuts. The Medicare Payment Advisory Committee will issue a report this March recommending how to replace or alter the Sustainable Growth Rate formula.

The pay package also includes a 1.5% bonus for physicians choosing to participate in the Physician Voluntary Reporting Program beginning in July 2007; an extension of the geographic adjustment for physician services; a one-year extension of the therapy cap exceptions; a 1.6% increase in dialysis payments; and a continuation of independent laboratory billing for the technical component of medical services.

Congress adjourned without addressing the imaging cuts mandated by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The cuts will go into effect January 1, 2007. “Be assured that the ACR will continue to work to enact responsible imaging reimbursement policies that are based on quality and safety for our patients,” American College of Radiology (ACR of Reston, Va) Chair Arl Van Moore, MD, wrote in a letter posted to the ACR’s Web site. “The College will, of course, keep members informed of developments as we continue to press this important issue before our nation’s 110th Congress, which convenes in January.”

—Cat Vasko