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Economics

Congress Announced a Doc Fix. What's a Doc Fix Again?

Congress announced something called a “doc fix.” What’s wrong with doctors?
“Doc fix” is shorthand for an annual ritual in Washington that staves off cuts to the rate physicians get paid by Medicare, the federal health insurance program for Americans over 65. Congress passed a budget law in 1997 to slow Medicare spending, partly by linking targets for doctor pay to economic growth through a formula called the “sustainable growth rate” (pdf). If Medicare spends more than the target one year, it’s supposed to lower its reimbursements for physician services the next year, to keep overall spending in check.

The problem is Medicare spending has exceeded the target each year for more than a decade, setting doctors up for big pay cuts that Congress patches with short-term fixes. Because cuts have been put off so many times, the drop by now would be staggering if it ever went through. Reimbursements would have dropped 24 percent overnight on Jan. 1 without a three-month reprieve passed in December.