In voice vote, House approves Medicare ‘doc fix’

A stethoscope is displayed for a photograph in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009. The Senate Finance Committee approved an $829 billion plan to overhaul U.S. health care, clearing the way for a full Senate debate over the broadest expansion of the government's role in the medical system since the creation of Medicare in 1965. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The House quickly approved another so-called "doc fix" bill early Thursday afternoon that serves as a temporary solution to an ongoing structural problem in the formula used to determine Medicare funding levels.

After hours of uncertainty over whether the bill have sufficient support to pass, House Republican leaders moved quickly to approve the measure by voice vote.

The bill, which is also expected to be taken up and passed by the Senate later Thursday, prevents a 24 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians under Medicare.

House Democrats criticized the bill -- insisting that Congress should have voted on a permanent fix to the Sustainable Growth Rate model.

"This is a band-aid," declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a speech before the vote. " There are so many things that are wrong with this bill, but the simple fact is that the clock is ticking and on March 31, it's bad news for our seniors and the doctors that treat them."

The "doc fix" is the latest incarnation of a bill passed frequently by the House -- sometimes multiple times per year -- that avoids a sharp drop-off in Medicare payments.

In 1997, Congress created the Sustainable Growth Rate, a system that pegged the amount of money budgeted for Medicare payments to projected growth of the economy. However, within a few years, health-care costs far outpaced economic growth -- creating a multibillion dollar shortfall in funding for Medicare payments.

Since 2003, Congress has approved "doc fix" bills that appropriate more money to Medicare funding in order to avoid cuts in Medicare reimburse rates for doctors.

The last doc fix bill expires on March 31, forcing Congress to either pass another doc fix, pass a bill overhauling Medicare payments, or see skyrocketing costs of doctors who treat Medicare patients.

This year's legislation, also includes a new delay to Medicaid cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients that were ordered by the Affordable Care Act.

"We need to fix this permanently, not patch it every year." said Rep. Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), the House Minority Whip. "It's a fraud and both sides have committed that fraud. We have to fix this."

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.
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