House Moves To Block Doctors' Medicare Pay Cuts

The House voted largely along party lines Thursday to permanently end annual cuts in doctors' Medicare payments, which the Congress has temporarily averted from year to year, the Associated Press reports. The legislation would add more than $200 billion to the deficit, and Republicans "contended that Democrats supported the bill to thank the [American Medical Association] for backing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul." In past years both parties have supported temporary fixes, but this year, "the doctor payment issue has become a proxy for the larger health overhaul debate" (Werner, 11/19).

The New York Times: "The legislation, known on Capitol Hill as the doc fix, would prevent a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors from taking effect in January, and also prevent further cuts in the years ahead. ... The bill seeks to correct a flawed payment formula that stems from earlier legislation intended to control the steep rise in Medicare costs. ... House Democrats had initially included the doc fix in their big health care legislation, but the steep cost of correcting the payment formula made it difficult to meet President Obama's request that the overall cost of the health bill be held to around $900 billion over 10 years" (Herszenhorn, 11/19).

A similar bill foundered last month in the Senate, NPR reports. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., managed to pass the bill with a vote tally of 243-184 "for a simple reason: He appended it to another bill requiring that most future legislation costing money would not be allowed to add to the deficit; that it would have to be offset by other spending cuts or tax increase. That helped win the votes of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, the party's fiscal conservatives" (Rovner, 11/20).

"Republican leaders on Thursday denounced the House Democrats' version of the so-called 'doc fix,'" Fox News reports. As Democrats prepared to bring the bill to the floor, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said "Bringing an unpaid 'doc fix' to the floor is the height of irresponsibility" (11/19).

One Republican, however, supported the Democrats' bill. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, an obstetrician by training, supported the bill with what he called a "largely symbolic" vote, The Hill reports. "I think it is very unlikely that today's bill will ever become law, since the Senate has already soundly rejected a similar plan," he said in a statement. Nevertheless, in a tweet, he wrote he voted to "stand with doctors and patients to prevent Medicare cuts that would jeopardize access [to medical care]," Burgess said in a tweet (Fabian, 11/19).

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