Congress Kicks TRICARE Can Down the Road

Washington Report

(April 1, 2013) Another temporary solution to a nagging problem that could affect TRICARE users has been passed by Congress. One week after the House gave the so-called “doc fix” legislation its approval, the Senate voted Monday evening to pass the bill and send it to the president, who was expected to sign it before midnight.

The bill delays for one year cuts to doctor payments under Medicare and TRICARE and is the 17th time in 11 years that Congress has opted for a short-term fix rather than a permanent solution. The cuts were to go into effect at midnight Monday.

“Regrettably, we just don’t have the votes right now to fix this problem for good,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader.

The problem dates to 1997 when Congress created the Sustainable Growth Rate. As The Washington Post explains, this linked the amount of money available for Medicare to the growth of the economy. But health-care costs rapidly out-paced the economy leaving a multibillion-dollar shortfall for Medicare payments.

The payments also apply to TRICARE.

The alternative is to cut reimbursements to physicians who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients. The cut this time would have been 24 percent. If the reimbursements were reduced, many physicians may have stopped treating Medicare and TRICARE patients.

NGAUS supports a permanent solution to the problem, but that would require an overhaul of the Medicare payment system, which Congress has been loath to address.