Capitol Hill Report: Congress Delays Solving Medicare Cuts (Again!)

March 8, 2010

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 349-4299, mamery@aan.com

The mission of the Academy is to be "indispensable to its members." One way the Academy fulfills this mission is by representing of neurology in the halls of Congress. Capitol Hill Report presents regular updates on legislative action and how the AAN ensures that the voice of neurology is heard on Capitol Hill. The Academy's legislative counsel in Washington, DC, Mike Amery, offers weekly updates on advocacy for neurology and neurologic concerns.

The eighth annual Neurology on the Hill takes place this week, with more than 100 Academy members from 42 states descending on Capitol Hill. Their message will include adding neurology to the primary (cognitive) care incentive section of health care reform and a permanent fix to the physician reimbursement problem (SGR).

Speaking of the physician reimbursement problem, Congress has again voted to prevent a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement by delaying the cut into April 1, 2010. Plans are still in the works for kicking the problem down the road with a seven-month or one-year fix and there seems to be no hope of reaching agreement on a permanent fix, which is estimated to cost $210 billion over 10 years.

Even though SGR has been at the forefront, health reform has not taken a back seat for Congress . . .  or for the Academy. President Obama called for a bipartisan health care summit, which was held February 25. Most agreed that the White House Summit settled little. Subsequently, Obama released a new plan, based on the Senate-passed bill, which included some Republican ideas and asked for an "up or down vote" from Congress by Easter. Most congressional observers agree this is unlikely to happen.

For the Academy, we continue focusing on the Neurology Amendment. I had brief meeting with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who agreed to meet during Neurology on the Hill with a group of the Academy representatives, including President-elect Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN, and AAN CEO Catherine Rydell, CAE. I also met with Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who agreed to contact the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to again try to obtain a cost analysis for the Neurology Amendment.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of having Thomas R. Vidic, MD, FAAN, of Indiana, join me on Capitol Hill this week. Dr. Vidic is a member of the Academy's Government Relations Committee and the BrainPAC Executive Committee. He and I discussed the Neurology Amendment with Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA), who had just participated in the White House Healthcare Summit. We also met with one of the Academy's best friends on Capitol Hill, Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). Perlmutter is sure to be a key supporter of the amendment as he was for the Academy's VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence legislation, which passed Congress in 2008. We continue to work this issue is in the halls of Congress and will keep you up to date on health reform.

Look for an update on Neurology on the Hill in the next edition.