KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Signs 6-Month Fix For Medicare Reimbursements To Doctors

Last night, the House approved, 417-1, a Senate bill staving off a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. Some lawmakers grumbled the bill doesn't go far enough, but President Barack Obama signed it today. The $6.5 billion legislation that provides a 2.2 percent raise for Medicare doctors was taken out of a jobless benefits bill by the Senate last week after Republicans blocked the larger bill. 

"Obama has signed a bill that temporarily spares doctors from a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments," The Associated Press reported. "The measure delays cuts through the end of November while lawmakers work on a more permanent solution. There was some urgency to approve the $6.5 billion bill. Medicare officials announced last week that the program would begin processing claims it had already received for June at the lower rate." Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., was the only "no" vote (6/25).  

The New York Times: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the approved legislation "totally inadequate" but "said the House had decided to adopt after concluding that the Senate was hopelessly gridlocked and could do no better. … To get the short-term doc fix through the Senate, the cost of the measure was offset by changes in Medicare billing regulations, antifraud provisions and the tightening of some pension rules, eliminating Republican objections that it would put the federal government deeper into debt. Medicare officials had announced on Friday that they would begin processing claims for June at the lower rate, raising pressure on the House to accept the short-term adjustment" (Herszenhorn, 6/24).

Politico: "But the same problem will quickly return after that given the erratic formula used to determine Medicare payments, and Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Associations, said ... 'In December, the Medicare physician payment cut will be a whopping 23 percent, increasing to nearly 30 percent in January'" (Rogers, 6/24).

Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal: "The cuts were enacted into law in the late 1990s as part of a thrift drive by Congress. But ... now each year [lawmakers] engage in a politically messy fight to make sure the reductions don't occur. … Democrats will likely face harsh difficulties when the payments - and the expected treatment reductions by doctors - are implemented, even though they are facing significant pressure not to add to the federal budget deficit" (Boles, 6/24).

CNN Money: "Congress has now blocked such cuts 10 times in the last eight years, including four times since January" (Pepitone, 6/24).

The Hill: "Democrats have tried repeatedly to pass a much longer fix. In November, the House passed legislation to repeal Medicare's physician payment formula, but the bill was shot down in the Senate by budget hawks with no appetite for adding more than $200 billion to the federal deficit. In similar fashion, Senate centrists this month objected to a 19-month doc fix provision, which the House passed in May without offsets elsewhere in the budget." The vote means lawmakers won't have to revisit the problem before the November midterm elections (Lillis, 6/24).

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