KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medicare ‘Doc Fix’ Remains Sticking Point On Tax Legislation

CongressDaily: The Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors remains a point of contention on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers cautioned Wednesday that a five-year "fix," currently being bandied about in the House, is unlikely to survive Senate scrutiny, and Republicans, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are demanding that any adjustment in doctor payments must be paid for. "Republicans took the opportunity to peg Democrats today for backing out on promises to doctors' groups to permanently fix the reimbursement system when healthcare reform efforts were still under way." House leadership aides "expect" a vote tomorrow on the tax legislation. The five-year fix "is estimated to cost $88.5 billion" (McCarthy, 5/20).

The Hill: Lawmakers are trying to get a powerful doctor lobby - the American Medical Association - onboard with the fix, though the organization has continually pushed for a permanent fix and doesn't want the five-year approach. "AMA supports repealing the Medicare payment formula. Democrats on Wednesday reiterated their support for a repeal, but view that as too expensive an option right now, given the $1.3 trillion budget deficit. Permanent repeal would add $250 billion to the nation's deficit with no corresponding spending cuts or tax increases. … Doctors face a 21.3 percent Medicare cut starting June 1, and their only hope of averting it may be to accept a short-term fix that would last a matter of months" (Pecquet, 5/19).

Roll Call: "American Medical Association officials as well as lobbyists from doctors groups were summoned to a meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office at 5 p.m. Wednesday. ... the participants were told they would receive an 'update on SGR.' The SGR is the sustainable growth rate formula to which doctors' Medicare payments are tied" (Roth, 5/19).

The Hill, in a separate story: Other medical organizations were at the meeting and "were warned that the package may yet move without any doc fix at all … Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) reiterated Wednesday his intention to have the House pass the bill this week, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has committed to passing the measure before the Memorial Day recess - or keeping his members in session if they don't. Several House Democrats said Wednesday that the American Medical Association's opposition to anything other than a permanent repeal of the payment formula may make it more likely that the House will pass a short-term patch" (Pecquet, 5/19).

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