KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Congressional Negotiators Announce ‘Doc Fix,’ Payroll Tax Cut Deal

Some Democrats fretted over cuts to the health care law to help pay for the package; physician groups were disappointed it did not replace Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula.

Los Angeles Times: Lawmakers Reach Tentative Deal To Extend Payroll Tax Break
Despite discomfort in the Republican ranks, House and Senate negotiators reached a deal in principle early Thursday to extend a payroll tax break, continue unemployment benefits and ensure that Medicare doctors do not get a pay cut this year. ... One of the issues holding up the agreement late Wednesday was Republicans' insistence on a provision allowing Medicare to pay for services at newly built doctor-owned hospitals. Under the nation's new healthcare law, such hospitals would no longer be reimbursed because their services were deemed too costly (Mascaro, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Congressional Negotiators Reach Deal On $150 Billion Economic Plan
In a pact early Thursday morning, congressional negotiators gave final approval to an economic plan worth more than $150 billion that would extend a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. ... It also includes a temporary fix for Medicare’s payment plan, which, left unchecked, would lead to a 27 percent drop in fees paid to doctors who treat elderly patients (Kane, 2/16).

The New York Times: Panel Completes Last Details Of Payroll Tax Cut Extension
Dr. Peter W. Carmel, president of the American Medical Association, said his group was "deeply disappointed" that the agreement, while delaying the (Medicare) cut for 10 months, did not replace the statutory formula that requires such cuts. Republicans boasted that they had cut spending under the new health care law to help pay for Medicare spending under the agreement. For example, the agreement cuts $5 billion from a special account created by the new law to promote public health (Steinhauer and Pear, 2/15).

Modern Healthcare: Doc Associations Rip Medicare Pay Deal
Physician associations denounced Congress for failing to find a permanent solution to Medicare's sustainable growth-rate formula after lawmakers reached a tentative agreement that would force them to revisit the issue at the end of the year. The deal would avert a 27.4% Medicare payment cut to physicians after Feb. 29 and extend current payment rates through the end of 2012, according to a GOP aide (Zigmond, 2/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Finalize Payroll-Tax Agreement
Democrats were fretting about the cuts to Mr. Obama's health-care law. Outlines of the package called for tentative cuts of $5 billion from a "prevention and public health fund," which had been set to spend $15 billion over 10 years. In addition, it would remove some funding from Louisiana, which had received increased Medicaid funding under the health law. These are relatively small cuts to a $930 billion law, but they are highly symbolic. Republicans have been promising to cut or kill the law since taking over the House in January 2011. Republicans call the prevention fund, which funds items like immunizations and health screenings, a "slush fund." ... The cuts to the health law could make it easier for GOP leaders to sell the deal to their more conservative members (Bendavid and Hughes, 2/16).

Kaiser Health News:  Tentative 'Doc Fix' Deal Would Cut Health Law’s Prevention Fund by $5B
After wrangling for weeks over how to finance a Medicare 'doc fix,' House and Senate conferees have a plan. The proposal would cut  Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers for 'bad debt,' Medicare payments to clinical laboratories and Medicaid 'disproportionate share' payments to hospitals that serve many poor patients,  and divert $5 billion  from the health law's $15 billion prevention fund (Carey, 2/15).

Politico: Payroll Tax Cut Deal Finalized
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) emerged from a Capitol meeting room to say the agreement — hashed out by a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee — would garner enough support to move forward in both chambers. They declined to discuss the details of the compromise, but it would extend for 10 months both the 4.2 percent Social Security payroll tax rate and unemployment benefits, and it would forestall a sharp decrease in payment cuts to physicians servicing Medicare patients (Rogers and Sherman, 2/16).

The Associated Press: Top Bargainers Announce Payroll Tax Cut Deal
Relieved congressional bargainers say they've reached agreement on compromise legislation extending payroll tax cuts and benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2012, edging a white-hot political battle a major step closer to finally being resolved. ... The bill would assure a continued tax cut for 160 million workers and jobless benefits for several million others, delivering top election-year priorities for President Barack Obama (Fram, 2/16).

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