KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Lawmakers Seek To Quickly Fix Medicare Payments For Physicians

Both the House and the Senate are considering moving quickly to bar cuts in Medicare payments to physicians.

Congress Daily reports that the Senate will "vote as early as next week on a Medicare payment fix that helps [physicians] avoid massive cuts as House Democratic leaders work to set up that chamber's own separate vote on a payment solution. The Senate move will appease physicians who have leaned on senators to use the overhaul to permanently fix a payment structure that leaves physicians facing annual cuts in Medicare reimbursement, including a 21 percent reduction looming next year. Physicians argue other payment reforms that focus reimbursement on quality rather than quantity are not as effective if the medical community continues to face cuts."

Physician lobbyists met with several key lawmakers and administration officials Wednesday to push for action. "Senate Democratic leaders made a procedural move Tuesday night that allows the chamber to bypass the usual committee process and take the $245 billion fix, proposed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., straight to the floor. ... Leadership has indicated the merger will be swift. ... The fix faces three tough procedural hurdles that each will require 60 votes: a cloture vote, a budget point of order because the measure is not offset and a motion to proceed to the bill, a lobbyist source said" (Edney and Friedman, 10/15).

The Hill reports: "In addition to their desire to prevent those cuts, Democrats are eager to win the support of physicians for healthcare reform. The American Medical Association (AMA) has already endorsed the House healthcare reform bill, which contains a $245 billion payment fix. But doing so would also open Democrats to charges they were skirting the budget rules they established for themselves and were underestimating the cost of healthcare reform by moving a related bill separately" (Young, 10/14).

Dow Jones reports: "In a bid to rein in federal spending on Medicare, Congress amended the program in 1997 so that payments to doctors were linked to a complicated formula of anticipated future growth in costs. But over time that funding formula hasn't kept pace with doctors' costs, resulting in annual shortfalls. Lawmakers have avoided the shortfall by passing measures to ensure that doctors don't see a drop in the rates. The bill sponsored by Stabenow would repeal the current formula and thus assuage concerns of doctors' groups, such as the American Medical Association, that future cuts could occur" (Yoest, 10/14).

The Associated Press reports: "The bill to restore planned Medicare cuts for doctors was introduced without fanfare in the Senate on Tuesday and set aside for swift floor action next week, rather than sent to the Senate Finance Committee for hearings as would normally be the case. 'This is a bill that would permanently change the payment system for physicians to a fairer system,' Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said as she introduced the bill" (Espo, 10/14).

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