Senate Gridlock Ends, COBRA And Medicare Fees Extended

Los Angeles Times: "Senate leaders Tuesday night resolved an impasse over emergency aid to the jobless that had driven a wedge into Republican ranks and given Democrats a political weapon. The deal overcame the continued objections of a single senator, Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who for days had held up short-term extensions of unemployment and COBRA benefits over concerns that the bill would increase the federal deficit." The measure passed with a 78-19 vote (Oliphant, 3/2).

The Washington Post: Throughout the standoff, Bunning "stood his ground, angry and alone, a one-man blockade against unemployment benefits, Medicare payments to doctors, satellite TV to rural Americans and paychecks to highway workers"  (Pershing, 3/3).

"The attention to the impasse was also cutting into Republican efforts to focus on the evolving Democratic strategy on the health care overhaul, which Republicans are trying to portray as an end-run around Senate rules," The New York Times reports. "Instead, Democrats were having a field day citing Mr. Bunning's repeated objections as evidence of how Republicans abuse the rules to delay needed legislation, helping them build a case in favor of using any available tools to overcome such opposition" (Hulse, 3/2). 

The Wall Street Journal: "The Bunning dispute involves a bill, passed unanimously by the House, that will extend unemployment insurance benefits and Cobra health-insurance payments for 30 days, until the longer extension kicks in" (Bendavid, 3/3). 

"The bill holds off a 21% physician pay cut, which officially went into effect March 1, but with assurances by Medicare officials that payments will be fixed retroactively," Modern Healthcare reports. "The so-called 'doc fix' is extended. ... Baucus said the short-term stay for the SGR formula belies a longer one that lawmakers want to work to achieve, though previous efforts in the Senate have fallen short over funding issues." The extension will cost around $7.3 billion (DoBias, 3/2).

Tulsa World reports that "Doctors in the state say older Oklahomans will have less access to medical care if Congress doesn't fix a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements that took effect Monday."

The current vice president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association notes that lawmakers had promised but failed to implement a permanent fix for this payment issue and paper adds that "[u]nder a formula adopted by Congress more than 10 years ago to limit Medicare spending, reimbursement rates paid to physicians are automatically adjusted each year. Congress has stepped in the past nine years to delay cuts triggered by the formula. But this year, Senate gridlock prevented passage of a 30-day extension that passed in the House last week" (Archer, 3/3).

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