House Passes ‘Doc Fix’ Legislation; President Expected To Sign Bill
The House on Thursday voted 409-2 to pass the Senate-approved bipartisan bill (HR 4994) that will delay for one year scheduled cuts to physicians' Medicare payments, blocking a 25% payment cut that would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2011, Reuters reports.
President Obama, who urged lawmakers to move quickly on the measure, is expected to sign it (Smith, Reuters, 12/9).
The bill -- which is estimated to cost $14.9 billion over 10 years, and includes extensions to several other expiring Medicare programs at an estimated cost of $4.6 billion -- would extend current Medicare reimbursement rates until 2012. It would be fully offset through changes to a provision in the federal health reform law related to health coverage subsidies.
Under the overhaul, certain low- and middle-income individuals and families in 2014 will be eligible for tax subsidies for health coverage through the new health insurance exchanges. Those who receive larger tax subsidies than they are eligible for must repay the federal government a portion of the subsidy -- up to $250 for individuals and $400 for families. The new bill changes the repayments to a sliding scale structure based on the income levels of recipients.
The bill also would be funded by the Medicare Improvement Fund (California Healthline, 12/8).
Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) were the two House members to vote against the bill. McClintock said he rejected the legislation because it is only a short-term solution to the Medicare physician payment rate issue, which he called "untenable and unsustainable." He said, "This latest suspension is supposedly funded through 'savings' from adjustments to 'ObamaCare,' but everybody knows that's a farce" (McCarthy, National Journal Daily, 12/9).
Congress Called on To Develop Permanent Solution
Obama and various physician and medical groups welcomed the passage of the one-year "doc fix," but they also echoed McClintock's sentiment, calling on Congress to keep the development of a permanent solution a priority in the next year.
Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "Congress did right by people with Medicare," adding, "We also hope that Congress uses the next year to work with [CMS] to create a long-term fix that preserves Medicare patients' access to care and relationships with their physicians.
Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Association, also praised the work of lawmakers and noted that the group would work "closely with congressional leadership in the new year to develop a long-term solution."
Bill Dealt 'First Blow' to Overhaul, GOP Lawmaker Says
CQ Today notes that the approval of the bill and its funding mechanism marks the first major modification to the health reform law, which Republicans want to repeal beginning in 2011.
Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) hailed Congress for working in "a bipartisan way" and "a fiscally responsible manner" to temporarily resolve the physician payment issue, and he described the legislation as "pulling at the thread that will begin to unravel ObamaCare."
Herger said, "Let it be known on this day in the people's House the dismantling of ObamaCare begins," adding, "Once the House passes this bill and the president signs it into law, we will have landed the first blow to the Democrats' massive health care overhaul."
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) dismissed Herger's assertion, saying, "There is nothing in this bill that would any way disrupt or repeal the health care reform," adding, "If there was any remote suggestion that we were repealing, or this was the beginning of the repeal, as the gentleman suggested, of the health care reform, not one Democrat would support that" (Weyl, CQ Today, 12/9).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.