Senate Democrats' attempt to reform Medicare doctor payments separately of their larger healthcare bill is little more than a "budget gimmick," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Friday.

The so-called "doc fix" -- which lawmakers typically pass every year -- combats staggering, annual decreases in Medicare reimbursement payments to physicians and hospitals. Democrats this year want to pass a robust, $250-billion, 10-year overhaul of the formula used to determine those payments, but Republicans are growing increasingly concerned by how lawmakers plan to pay for it -- an argument Hatch advanced again on Friday.

"It will be completely deficit financed," stressed Hatch during a teleconference with conservative bloggers, adding "I think by the time you get through the full 10 years it's going to be double that, or somewhere in that neighborhood."

"President Obama promised deficit-neutral healthcare reform. And the 'doc fix' is part of healthcare reform -- so why's it being done separately?" the senator added.

Hatch contends that the Senate effort is motivated in part by Democrats' desire to pare down the price tag of the Finance Committee's healthcare proposal, estimated to cost more $800 billion over 10 years. By passing a more permanent payment reform before Congress tackles its other healthcare concerns, Hatch explained, Democrats can create the impression their latter, bigger effort has less of a deficit footprint.

Nevertheless, Hatch admitted Friday some "doc fix" must pass in order to ensure doctors "don't quit taking Medicare patients." But he expressed serious skepticism about the Senate's effort in particular, which he fretted would actually cost the government more than initially estimated after its first 10 years.

"It's just another budget gimmick," Hatch said. "Now we're being asked to include the deficit by another $250 billion a time when the White House has already tripled our deficit."

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