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Concerns were raised about the current system Medicare uses to determine annual changes to physician fees--the sustainable growth rate (SGR) system--when fees were reduced by 5.4 percent in 2002. Subsequent administrative and legislative actions modified or overrode the SGR system, resulting in fee increases for 2003, 2004, and 2005. However, projected fee reductions for 2006-2012 have raised new concerns about the SGR system. Policymakers are considering whether to eliminate spending targets or modify them. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) required that GAO study SGR and potential alternatives to the system. This report examines (1) how the SGR system is designed to control spending for physician services, (2) what concerns have been raised about the SGR system and its components, (3) what affects the stability and predictability of physician fee updates under the SGR system, and (4) what alternatives to the current SGR system exist. GAO reviewed relevant laws and regulations and interviewed officials and organizations representing physicians. On the basis of this information, GAO identified potential alternatives to the SGR system and requested illustrative simulations of fee updates and spending on physician services from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

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