House Democrats Stall Medicare Vote
The House on Wednesdaydecided to delay until next week a vote on a Medicare package that would delaythe scheduled 10% reduction to Medicare physician fees, CongressDailyreports. According to CongressDaily, "Democrats are hoping towin support in the Senate for more than the 'bare-bones' fix being proposed byHouse Republicans, but it is unclear if that will be possible"(Johnson/Bourge, CongressDaily, 12/13). Aides from both partiessaid that the bare-bones package released on Wednesday could become law ifDemocrats fail to pass a broader bill before Congress adjourns.
The Republican package would halt the physician fee cut, but it does notinclude any fee increase. The proposal also would extend for one year severalMedicare programs that are about to expire, including a program that giveshigher reimbursement to rural health care providers, transitional Medicaidassistance and exemptions to caps on occupational therapy benefits. The physicianfee fix would be paid for using money from a Medicare Advantage"stabilization fund" and by reducing MA payments to hospitals withteaching programs (Armstrong , CQ Today, 12/12). Republicanssay the proposal is the only one that could pass both chambers and be signedinto law by President Bush (CongressDaily, 12/13).
Republicans also released an outline of what they expect from House Democrats,which includes stopping the physician fee cut and increasing fees by 0.5%, andbolstering rural health care provider payments by $1.5 billion, among otherchanges (CQ HealthBeat, 12/12).
Both the Democratic andRepublican Medicare packages include an extension of SCHIP, CongressDailyreports. Bush on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have increased SCHIPfunding by $35 billion over five years. Democrats have proposed extending theprogram through Sept. 30, 2008, just before the presidential election, whileRepublicans have proposed extending it through March 2009 (CongressDaily,12/13). Funding for the program expires on Friday (Armstrong , CQToday, 12/12). House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said theDemocrats' plan would address state shortfalls in funding for 2008. The Congressional Budget Office said that covering state shortfalls will cost $800 million(Johnson/Koffler, CongressDaily, 12/12).
The American Medical Association is pushing for a two-year fix tothe physician fee cut, which it says will allow Congress to evaluate theMedicare payment formula, the WichitaEaglereports. The group called for increasing physician fees by 1.7% annually toadjust for inflation, according to Edward Langston, chair of the AMA board. AnAMA survey found that 60% of physicians said they would limit the number of newMedicare beneficiaries they treat if the physician fee cut is not stopped."Senate action to stop next year's 10% Medicare physician payment cut isdesperately needed to avert an access-to-care crisis for seniors,"Langston said (Atwater, Wichita Eagle, 12/13).
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