Medicare Physician Payment Updates and the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) System

Jim Hahn – Analyst in Health Care Financing, Congressional Research Service:

Each year since 2002, the statutory method for determining the annual updates to the Medicare physician fee schedule, known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR) system, has resulted in a reduction in the reimbursement rates (or a “negative update”). With the exception of 2002, when a 4.8% decrease was applied, Congress has passed a series of bills to override the reductions. The SGR system was established because of the concern that the Medicare fee schedule itself would not adequately constrain overall increases in spending for physicians’ services. While the fee schedule limits the amount that Medicare will pay for each service, there are no limits on the volume or mix of services. The SGR system was intended to serve as a restraint on aggregate spending. If expenditures over a period are less than the cumulative spending target for the period, the update is increased. However, if spending exceeds the cumulative spending target over a certain period, future updates are reduced to bring spending back in line with the target. READ FULL ARTICLE


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