Senate Fails To Pass Bill on COBRA Subsidies, Medicare Payment Cuts
A jobs bill that included a temporary extension of COBRA subsidies and a freeze on scheduled cuts to physicians' Medicare payments did not pass before the Senate adjourned for a two-week spring recess on Friday, CQ Today reports (Vadala/Weyl, CQ Today, 3/26). The benefits are set to expire April 5.
Although the Senate had passed a temporary extension of the benefits until April 5, another short-term extension is required to continue the benefits for another month while House and Senate leaders complete negotiations on longer-term legislation that would extend benefits through the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday filed for cloture on a 30-day extension for the programs; however, the chamber voted to adjourn without striking a deal. According to Senate aides, no agreement is expected (Friedman/Sanchez, CongressDaily, 3/26).
The chamber likely will vote to end debate on the bill after it reconvenes from recess on April 12. Democrats plan to propose retroactively providing unemployment benefits to individuals who lost them because of the delay (CQ Today, 3/26).
Physicians 'Livid' Pay Cuts Not Averted
The American Medical Association on Friday criticized the Senate impasse, saying that Congress' failure to postpone a scheduled 21% Medicare reimbursement pay cut is causing "severe instability" for physicians and patients, CQ HealthBeat reports.
AMA President James Rohack said, "It is unconscionable for elected officials to play politics with seniors ... who rely on them to preserve their ability to see the physician of their choice." Rohack encouraged Medicare beneficiaries to contact their senators to let them know that "decisions made in Washington have real-world consequences and that their inability to take permanent action on this critical issue is unacceptable."
Meanwhile, CMS spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz said the agency is attempting to help physicians avert the cut. Ashkenaz said that CMS is instructing contractors to hold claims for services delivered after April 1 for 10 business days to "ensure that if Congress acts when it returns, providers will not be hit by a payment reduction" (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 3/26).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.