California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House GOP To Push Bill To Extend Payroll Tax Break Without ‘Doc Fix’

On Monday, House Republicans said they will introduce legislation to extend the payroll tax break through the end of the year without cost offsets, but they will allow the conference committee to continue negotiating proposals to delay scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement rate cuts and extend unemployment benefits, the Wall Street Journal reports (Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 2/14).

The move comes after GOP leaders for weeks insisted that they would not accept extensions to the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits or a "doc fix" without offsets (Steinhauer, New York Times, 2/13).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a statement released Monday said the plan is "not our first choice" (Mascaro, Los Angeles Times, 2/13). However, they added, "Because the president and Senate Democrats have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance and the 'doc fix'" (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 2/13).

Democrats Prefer Single Proposal, Criticize GOP Plan

Democratic leaders said they would prefer to advance a single piece of legislation that addresses all three issues, but did not flat out reject the House Republicans proposal, the Washington Post reports.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the plan "to decouple the payroll tax jeopardizes both the ability of seniors to see their Medicare doctors and benefits for millions of Americans who lost their jobs. There is no reason all three of these priorities cannot proceed at the same time as both the House and Senate agreed" (Kane, Washington Post, 2/13).

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) also was critical of the plan, saying it is "completely irresponsible to leave behind five million unemployed Americans whose benefits will expire and 47 million seniors and disabled Americans whose access to health care would be jeopardized" (Modern Healthcare, 2/13).

Short-Term Doc Fix Could Be Released Tuesday

Meanwhile, an agreement on a short-term doc fix could come as early as Tuesday, according to Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Modern Healthcare reports.

Kyl -- one of the members of the conference committee negotiating the issue -- said that the fix could be for 10 months, 12 months or 22 months, but he did not indicate which is mostly likely.

Although the committee currently is meeting, a final decision mostly likely will come from the committee's chair Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the highest ranking Democratic conferee, Modern Healthcare reports.

The agreement is likely to come on Tuesday because the conference committee wants to resolve the issue before its members leave Friday for the Presidents Day recess, Kyl said.

Kyl added that how to pay for the doc fix continues to be the key issue in negotiations. While Democrats are seeking a plan in which 70% of the offsets come from providers and 30% come from beneficiaries, Republicans would like a more even split, according to Kyl (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 2/14).

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