Budget Hawks Block Reid's Push For 'Doc Fix'

Democrats backed away from an unfunded proposal to increase physician payments from Medicare in the face of opposition from Republicans and some fiscally conservative members of their own ranks, the New York Times reports. As the week began, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had hoped to fast track the legislation to clear the way for a vote on the sweeping health reform legislation. The doctors' payment bill would cost $247 billion, and block a 21 percent cut next year as well as smaller cuts in the following years. Democrats have worked to separate it from the broader legislation in order to keep the price tag of the overhaul below $900 billion.

Both sides characterized the battle over the doctors' pay "fix" as a proxy for the larger health reform battle. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said, "Republicans believe they can derail health reform by defeating the doctor fix." Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, "I hope that there will be senators on both sides of the aisle who revolt at the majority leader's push to purchase the support of physicians by, in essence, creating legislation that puts our country another quarter-trillion dollars in debt" (Pear, 10/20).

"Supporters of the bill say the sharp payment cuts, unless reversed, would encourage doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The bill is supported by the American Medical Association and AARP, the lobbying group for seniors. Adoption of the measure would take one of the most contentious and costly issues off the table as the White House and Democrat-controlled Congress prepare for floor debate this fall on the broader bill" (Hitt and Adamy, 10/21).

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who "says the fix should be made permanent and the cost should be made part of the budget process in years to come. For now, though, her legislation lacks the 60 votes needed to shut off debate in the Senate," the Detroit Free Press reports (Spangler, 10/20).

Meanwhile, "Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said he and Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, were discussing a possible compromise that would cost $25 billion over two years and -- unlike the original measure -- not raise federal deficits," the Associated Press/Boston Globe reports (10/21).

Related KHN story: Advocates Urge Action Now To 'Fix' Medicare Doctor Payments (Weaver, 10/20).

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