Senate (sort of) Averts ‘Havoc’ Over Medicare Payments

By Alex Pepper

Jun 18, 2010 2:19pm

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports: Senators acted Friday afternoon, slipping under the buzzer to avert a 21 percent pay cut for Medicare doctors. The Senate’s late action only gets the bill a third of the way into law, but should enable the federal government to stall the pay cut until the House of Representatives can act next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had warned Thursday night of the “havoc” that would erupt in America if Medicare doctors got a pay cut. After the agreement Friday he was more upbeat. “Sometimes the senate can be terribly disconcerting, aggravating, but that's the way the senate is,” said Reid,. “That's — those are the rules we work under. I love the senate. And every day that goes by, I understand for the times I'm aggravated and disconcerted, there are many — the vast majority of the time I'm amazed at how we're able to get things done.” Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agreed by unanimous consent on Friday (meaning all 100 members signed on) to avert the pay cut, which is part of a formula meant to keep Medicare solvent, for the next six months. The measure also gives doctors treating Medicare patients a 2.2 percent pay raise through November. Of course the House of Representatives is not in session today so the Medicare ‘doc fix’ will not become law before the weekend. The measure passed by the Senate will likely come before the House body early next week. But action by the Senate today is likely to lead CMS, the government body that administers Medicare, to instruct contractors to hold off submitting claims until the House can act. CMS had issued instructions to contractors to hold off submitting claims until today. The Medicare pay rate for doctors had lapsed two weeks ago, along with emergency unemployment benefits for the long-out-of-work. The proposal passed by the Senate will not add to the deficit, meeting a key demand of Republicans. It’s more-than $6 billion price tag is paid for by limiting how much some companies have to obligate to pension funds, raising more than $2 billion because those companies would pay taxes on the money not placed in the pension funds. The pension measure is worth $4 billion to the government. Another cost-offset  would limit when Medicare can adjust claims made by hospitals for inpatients. This saves the government more than $4 billion. While the Medicare doctors get a reprieve, there will be no help for the unemployed in the Senate today. There is no plan for a stop-gap bill to address the federal benefits for the long-unemployed that also expired two weeks ago. Democrats’ proposals to extend unemployment benefits through the end of this year have so far been foiled by concerns about the budget deficit. UPDATE: And there’s late word that the Doc Fix might not have that easy a road through the House. “Weeks ago, the House passed legislation to ensure that doctors don't drop Medicare patients. Now that the Senate has acted today on a six-month extension, we will review their legislation as we remain committed to ensuring that our seniors and veterans receive the care they deserve,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While House Democrats are not promising to immediately pass what the Senate did – making it more likely that some doctors will be paid at the lower rate for some period of time, they also predict that whatever final bill is sent to the President will be retroactive.

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