Expected Lame Duck Doc Fix Prompts Calls for Transparency

Published May 31, 2016

A coalition of grassroots organizations led by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is urging Congress to pair a transparency requirement to the so-called doc fix, the annual bill which avoids lowering taxpayer-funded payments to doctors.

During the postelection “lame duck” session, Congress is expected to backtrack once again on scheduled cuts in the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors. Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is calling on the government to provide the public with more information about how much they pay doctors for medical services, so that consumers can be better informed when shopping for services themselves.

Letter Demands Amendment

In a letter sent to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), ATR called for a rider amendment be attached to the latest version of the doc fix to require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to make available an online database of average reimbursement rates for doctors and other health service providers.

Ryan Ellis, tax policy director for ATR and lead author of the letter, says he believes the 2010 version of the doc fix will otherwise be the same as previous versions.

“There shouldn’t be any major changes,” Ellis said. “The big question is, will Republicans use the doc fix to advance free market health reforms, or will they simply pass it as usual, run up the credit card, and appease doctors?”

State Level Examples

Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, notes similar transparency measures have advanced at the state level.

“In Illinois we passed a bill this year that aims to open up Medicaid spending with an online transparency Web site,” Rasmussen said. “South Carolina has a Medicaid transparency Web site aimed at offering privacy-protected claims information so people can see where Medicaid dollars are going.”

Rasmussen says it makes sense to provide government payment rates to prospective patients.

“I think it makes sense, whether at the state level or the federal level, so that people can become better consumers,” said Rasmussen. “That is why we worked on the bill in Illinois this past year, and the governor signed it. It was a bipartisan effort.”

Consumer Activity Informed by Price

Jeffrey Anderson of the Pacific Research Institute says pricing information changes consumer activity.

“It’s always a good thing to make prices more transparent,” said Anderson. “That, in combination with putting people in control of their own health-care dollars, is the real path to controlling costs.  We need to reduce insurers’ role as the middleman.”

However, Anderson says he thinks the doc fix will pass without any transparency amendment.

“It’s amusing that Secretary Kathleen Sebelius now says that the “single biggest step” that Congress can take to ensure that the quality of care under Medicare isn’t compromised is to pass the doc fix,” Anderson said. “The actual responsible thing would be for Congress to repeal Obamacare and find offsetting spending to cut.  But don’t count on that happening.”

Loren Heal ([email protected]) writes from Neoga, Illinois.