House OKs Bill With COBRA Extension, Pay Fix for Medicare Doctors
On Wednesday, the House voted 395-34 to approve a $636.3 billion defense appropriations bill (HR 3326) that contains measures to extend COBRA health benefits and delay cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates, CQ Today reports.
The defense bill was the last of 12 appropriations measures awaiting passage by both chambers of Congress and was the mechanism used to pass other measures before the House adjourns. The Senate is expected to hold a cloture vote on the bill Friday, with a vote on final passage likely coming Saturday, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
The bill would extend through February a program that provides subsidies to laid-off workers who sign up for continued COBRA insurance coverage. The program was originally passed as part of February's stimulus package (PL 111-5).
A longer extension of the program likely will be included in a second bill to be taken up next year.
Medicare Payments to Physicians
The spending bill also would provide funding to avert for two months a planned cut in Medicare payments to physicians.
Congress is expected to resume discussions of the issue next year (Koss, CQ Today, 12/16).
In November, the House voted to approve a $210 billion bill (HR 3961) that would avert the scheduled 21% cut in Medicare payments for physicians and create a new, permanent formula for doctors' Medicare payments.
In October, the Senate rejected similar legislation (S 1776) (California Healthline, 11/20).
The cuts were planned for January but would be delayed until March under the defense bill (Lubell, Modern Healthcare, 12/16).
In addition, the defense bill would expand unemployment insurance and increase states' federal medical assistance. These two measures with the COBRA extension would total $75 billion, CongressDaily reports.
The House also approved a five-day continuing resolution to fund federal programs through Dec. 23 so that the Senate has time to pass its defense appropriations bill (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 12/16).
Republicans criticized Democrats for adding several items to the spending bill other than defense measures, the Wall Street Journal reports.Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said, "There is something especially outrageous and callous about the willingness of the majority party leadership to allow the Defense Department bill in a time of war to be held hostage to totally unrelated legislative items" (Boles, Wall Street Journal, 12/16). 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.