House Delays Medicare Vote; Republicans Offer Proposal
The House on Wednesday decided to delay until next week a vote on a Medicare package that would delay the scheduled 10% reduction to Medicare physician fees, CongressDaily reports.
According to CongressDaily, "Democrats are hoping to win support in the Senate for more than the 'bare-bones' fix being proposed by House Republicans, but it is unclear if that will be possible" (Johnson/Bourge, CongressDaily, 12/13). Aides from both parties said that the bare-bones package released on Wednesday could become law if Democrats fail to pass a broader bill before Congress adjourns.
The Republican package would halt the physician fee cut, but it does not include any fee increase. The proposal also would extend for one year several Medicare programs that are about to expire, including a program that gives higher reimbursement to rural health care providers, transitional Medicaid assistance and exemptions to caps on occupational therapy benefits.
The physician fee fix would be paid for using money from a Medicare Advantage "stabilization fund" and by reducing MA payments to hospitals with teaching programs (Armstrong , CQ Today, 12/12). Republicans say the proposal is the only one that could pass both chambers and be signed into law by President Bush (CongressDaily, 12/13).
Both the Democratic and Republican Medicare packages include an extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, CongressDaily reports. Bush on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have increased SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years.
Democrats have proposed extending the program through Sept. 30, 2008, just before the presidential election, while Republicans have proposed extending it through March 2009 (CongressDaily, 12/13). Funding for the program expires on Friday (Armstrong , CQ Today, 12/12).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the Democrats' 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 to the physician fee cut, which it says will allow Congress to evaluate the Medicare payment formula, the Wichita Eagle reports.
The group called for increasing physician fees by 1.7% annually to adjust for inflation, according to Edward Langston, chair of the AMA board. An AMA survey found that 60% of physicians said they would limit the number of new Medicare beneficiaries they treat if the physician fee cut is not stopped. "Senate action to stop next year's 10% Medicare physician payment cut is desperately needed to avert an access-to-care crisis for seniors," Langston said (Atwater, Wichita Eagle, 12/13).