House GOP readies year-long 'doc fix'

 

House Republican leaders are preparing to pass a new "doc fix" bill that would prevent a 24 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians under Medicare.

Republicans plan to bring up the bill this week to prevent the cut, which is set to happen on April 1.

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According to the 121-page bill posted on the House Clerk's website late Tuesday night, the House will pass a year-long extension, through the end of March 2015. The bill also extends several related healthcare measures until the end of March 2015.

Congress routinely dodges planned cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates that were first established in 1997. The cuts are required by the so-called sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

Earlier this month, the House passed a "doc fix" bill that would permanently eliminate the threat of cuts to doctor reimbursements. The permanent fix was paid for by a 5-year delay in ObamaCare's individual mandate. But that bill ran into stiff Democratic opposition.

The year-long patch, however, is not paid for over the long term. Instead, the bill shifts around Medicare sequester cuts due to take place in 2024, so that all of them happen in fiscal year 2024, instead of having them split between fiscal years 2024 and 2025. But that language only helps pay for the doc fix over a 10-year window, and creates no actual budget savings over a longer term.

As a result, the bill also includes language exempting it from "PAYGO" rules that require new spending to be offset with new revenues or cuts.

Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, criticized this language as a "gimmick" that doesn't pay for the new spending at all.

"The sequester realignment provision is a pure timing gimmick that produces no real savings and has no effect on the debt," he told The Hill. "There are plenty of options for real savings to replace this gimmick."

GOP leaders plan to call up the bill under a suspension of House rules, which means it will get a shorter debate and need a two-thirds majority to pass. That vote in the House is expected Thursday, and a Senate vote is likely later that day.

— This story was corrected to say the bill was posted on the House Clerk's website, not the Rules Committee website. It was last updated at 12:32 p.m.