House Passes Bill Postponing Cut in Medicare Payments to Doctors

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

By a surprisingly large bipartisan margin, the House voted yesterday to postpone a planned cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients by approving a reduction in payouts to private insurers.

The House approved legislation, on a 355 to 59 vote, that forestalls a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals for 18 months. Democrats warned that such a decrease would lead to many physicians opting out of treating Medicare patients.

"If we fail to enact this legislation, physicians will face a 10 percent pay cut that jeopardizes access to care for seniors and the disabled," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which helped write the bill.

The battle now shifts to the Senate, where it may be more closely fought.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill because it includes payment reductions to Medicare Advantage, the program under which some seniors use a private, fee-for-service insurer instead of Medicare for their health coverage.

According to White House statements, a drop in payments to those insurers would result in reduced services and benefits, particularly for elderly patients in rural areas.

Democrats said private insurers receive too much money. The legislation approved yesterday could result in $14 billion less for them over five years, though an estimate by a conservative House Republican caucus put the tally at $47.5 billion over 11 years.

The bill has broad support from the American Medical Association, which regularly sought and received prior postponements of planned cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.

It was considered under a fast-track provision that required a two-thirds majority for passage. House Republican leaders had hoped to hold enough of their members to kill the measure and allow for continued bipartisan negotiations in the Senate, where the reduced payments to private insurers were not under consideration.

Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House minority whip, said that "our members wanted to go home having voted for a measure that would ensure that physicians are fairly reimbursed by Medicare. Sadly, House Democrats would neither back down nor commit to finding a way to get a reasonable compromise."

Instead, with less than a week until the reduced payments to doctors are scheduled to take effect, a majority of Republicans, 129, supported the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday he will bring the House version to a vote this week.

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