KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Congress Passes ‘Doc Fix,’ Payroll-Tax Bill By Wide Margins

The Wall Street Journal: Payroll-Tax Cut Pact Clears Congress
Congress quickly passed a deal to extend the payroll-tax-cut through year-end, continue unemployment benefits and avoid a steep cut in Medicare doctors' fees, moving on from a fight that tied up legislators for months. By 293-132, the House voted to pass the measure. The Senate quickly followed with a 60-36 vote (Hughes, 2/17).

The New York Times: Congress Acts to Extend Aid to Jobless and Payroll Tax Cut
Republicans who said they supported the deal said they had won several important concessions during the talks, like imposing new conditions and limits on unemployment compensation and making a significant cut in the preventive-health spending called for in the health care overhaul that Democrats pushed through Congress in 2010. Representative Renee Ellmers, Republican of North Carolina, called that cut “the most dramatic blow to Obamacare yet" (Cushman Jr. and Pear, 2/17).

Earlier news coverage noted the details of the final deal:

Modern Healthcare: Details Of SGR Deal Released
[The bill] would prevent a 27.4% cut in Medicare physician payment rates scheduled for March 1 and would freeze current payment rates through Dec. 31, 2012. The provision also requires that the Government Accountability Office and HHS submit reports to help Congress develop a long-term replacement of the existing Medicare physician payment system (Zigmond, 2/16).

The Associated Press: How Parts Of Payroll Tax Cut Package Are Paid For
The approximately $20 billion cost of preventing payment cuts to Medicare doctors would be paid for with cuts in other areas of health care. All these cuts and savings would be achieved from 2012 through 2022. ... President Barack Obama sought similar cuts in his proposed 2013 budget (2/17).

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Congressional Leaders Reach Deal On 10-Month 'Doc Fix'
Five billion dollars comes from the health law’s prevention fund, and this would be over the next 10 years. $2.5 billion comes from additional Medicaid money for Louisiana that was contained in the health law. And there’s also an extension of a phasing-down of Medicaid payments to hospitals that take a lot of lower-income folks. Those reductions would be extended for another year (Carey and Judd, 2/16). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.

KQED's State of Health blog: Money From Prevention Is First To Go In 'Doc Fix'
The goal of the Prevention Fund is to provide communities around the country with billions of dollars over the next ten years to invest in effective prevention efforts against heart attacks, cancer and strokes and to reduce tobacco use as well as prevent obesity. And if you’re wondering if prevention money is well spent, the most recent research says it is (Aliferis, 2/16).

Politico: Tom Harkin Rips 'Devil's Deal' On Payroll Tax
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) unleashed fury at President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats over the deal to extend the payroll tax holiday, ripping the agreement apart as a "devil’s deal." ... Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, took particular aim at one component: that will slash about $5 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund - a program created by the health care law that Harkin has championed (Kim, 2/16).

Kaiser Health News Capsules blog: Reid Vows Health Prevention Fund Will Be Replenished, Eventually 
Reid said, "We put into law that this fund grows. … This program is going to grow at the rate of about $2 billion a year in the next few years." But if the conference report to stop the Medicare physician pay cut becomes law, the fund’s growth would be significantly slowed, and supporters say that will hurt its ability to finance programs (Carey, 2/17).

NPR: Doctors 'Disgruntled' And Frustrated By Looming Medicare Cuts
[The fix] isn't permanent. It only extends to the end of the year. And then, if Congress doesn't act again, the cut it is expected to be in the neighborhood of 32 percent. ... while Congress mostly hasn't let the scheduled cuts take effect, it also hasn't given doctors a raise, either (Rovner, 2/16).

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