KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

McConnell: GOP Will Seek Amendments To Offset Cost of Medicare Physician Pay Fix

"U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Thursday that Senate Republicans will offer amendments to offset the cost of a 10-year, $247 billion Medicare physician payment bill set for debate next week," according to The Wall Street Journal. The GOP amendments, he said, would "either pay for a one-year fix for Medicare physician payment rates - set to drop 21% in January - or a 10-year fix, possibly paid for with unused funds from the $787 billion fiscal stimulus measure passed earlier this year."

McConnell criticized Democrats for offering this measure, saying it is "a way to conceal the true cost of broader health-overhaul legislation." The Journal reports that "a procedural vote to limit debate on the bill could occur as soon as this week. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced the bill Tuesday, with [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid employing Senate rules that allow the bill to bypass the committee process and come directly to the Senate floor."

"The bill as it currently stands doesn't include any new revenue to pay for the cost of getting rid of the current payment system, which Congress must pass legislation to fix nearly every year in order to avoid steep shortfalls in physician pay under Medicare." Democrats have sought to "untether" the pay fix from their sweeping health overhaul legislation in order to keep it's price tag below $900 billion over 10 years (Yoest, 10/15).

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association's "wobbly" and, to many Democrats, surprising, support for health reform could depend on whether Congress repeals planned reductions in doctors' pay, the Washington Post reports. The AMA has a long history of opposing sweeping changes to the health system; but they have also fought to eliminate the reductions, which effect how much Medicare pays, for years. The reductions were spurred by a 1997 law meant to balance the federal deficit. But cuts have been pushed back under lobbying pressure, and each year Congress defers them, they compound the following year. Permanently removing them would cost over $200 billion (Goldstein, 10/15).

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