By Kimberly Scott, Managing Editor, G2 Intelligence
Protecting reimbursement for labs is the top priority for the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) for the remainder of 2012, Dave King, chairman and CEO of LabCorp and chairman of the board for ACLA, told members during the group's annual meeting this week.
After facing a recent bitter defeat in Congress with enactment of legislation that will cut Medicare lab fees by $2.7 billion over 10 years to help pay for another short-term Medicare physician fee fix, labs are gearing up for another battle over money at the end of the year when lawmakers will once again looks for sources of savings. "2012 is an even bigger challenge than 2011 was," said King, speaking during ACLA's annual meeting, held April 23-24 in Washington, D.C. "The SGR fix will come up again, and sequestration and the debt ceiling are all on the agenda."
Congress in February passed a measure that cancels a 27.4 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians and freezes rates at their current level through Dec. 31 of this year. However, fees are due to be slashed in 2013 due to flaws in the in the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula used to set those fees. Congress typically intervenes to prevent large cuts to physician payment from occurring but never has been able to reach an agreement to fix the SGR permanently.
Also looming at the end of this year is expiration of the Bush tax cuts, expiration of the debt ceiling expansion, and a 2 percent automatic cut (sequestration) in defense and nondefense spending scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2013. The confluence of budget-related events at the end of 2012 is likely to create a perfect storm in which labs could once again be caught in the undertow. Unfortunately, recent congressional action underscores the fact that in the search for budget savings, clinical lab services remain a tempting and easy bipartisan target with limited political fallout.
Lawmakers are unlikely to address any of these pressing issues until after the November elections, which is likely to make for a very interesting holiday season. Stay tuned.