House Democrats Scale Back Measure To Delay Medicare Payment Cuts
On Wednesday, House Democratic leaders released a scaled-down version of the so-called "extenders" bill (HR 4213), in an attempt to draw enough support to pass the legislation during an expected vote on Thursday, CQ Today reports.
The bill includes abridged extensions to jobless benefits that are scheduled to expire this year, including subsidies to help unemployed residents obtain coverage through COBRA and a shorter delay for a 21% cut to physicians' Medicare payments scheduled for June 1 (Rubin/Schatz, CQ Today, 5/26).
According to a new summary of the revised bill:
- Physicians' Medicare payment rates would be increased by 2.2% for the remainder of 2010 and by 1% in 2011, before the payment formula is expected to revert to the current formula in 2012. Under the original bill released last week, the payment cut would have been delayed through 2013 before reverting to the current formula (Rogers, Politico, 5/26); and
- Unemployment health benefits and COBRA subsidies, which would have been extended through Dec. 31 under the original bill, would be extended through Nov. 30 instead.
According to the Congressional Budget Office's new estimates, the changes would cut the bill's cost from nearly $200 billion to about $144 billion (CQ Today, 5/26). CBO previously estimated that $174 billion in new spending in the original bill would be offset by $40 billion in new taxes, resulting in the addition of $134 billion to the federal deficit.
According to Reuters, the bill now calls for $145 billion in new spending and would add $94 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years, according to congressional staffers.
Prospects for Bill Improve
The staffers said that with the lower cost, the legislation's chance of passage has improved (Sullivan/Dixon, Reuters, 5/26). According to CQ Today, if Democrats wary of the bill's costs are reassured by the less costly version, the House could pass the bill on Thursday.
Senate Democratic leaders could then file a cloture motion to limit debate on the bill that would then facilitate a floor vote as soon as Friday, CQ Today adds (CQ Today, 5/26).
Democratic leaders in both chambers said they are determined to send the bill to President Obama for his signature before they formally adjourn for the Memorial Day recess this weekend (Hulse, New York Times, 5/26).
Legislation Faces Opposition From Lawmakers, Advocacy Groups
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Republicans would oppose the extenders bill because of its cost and expected effect on the budget deficit, The Hill reports (Bolton, The Hill, 5/26).
Meanwhile, several major labor unions and physician groups were upset after learning that House Democrats were pushing a scaled-back version of the bill with a reduced "fix" to the physician Medicare payment issue, CongressDaily reports. The groups, particularly physician organizations, have been lobbying for a long-term solution (McCarthy, CongressDaily, 5/26).
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said that if the legislation is not passed his state would have to eliminate 25,000 jobs, because the bill includes a provision that would renew $24 billion in federal health payments to about 31 states (Reuters, 5/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.