Senate sends ‘doc fix’ to Obama

More than 15 Senate Republicans joined most Democrats in passing a bill that prevents a pending cut to Medicare physician rates.

On a 64-35 vote Monday, the Senate cleared the House-passed 13-month “doc fix.” In order to get agreement to hold the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held final passage to a 60-vote threshold.

“While I’m pleased with this temporary patch, I hope it’s our last patch,” Reid said ahead of the vote.

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GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), John Cornyn (Texas), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), David Vitter (La.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) voted for the bill.

Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Tom Carper (Del.), Mark Warner (Va.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Al Franken (Minn.) voted against the fix.

Final passage came on the deadline to prevent a 24 percent cut to those Medicare physician rates set to hit on April 1 without congressional action.

Reid said he would have preferred to pass a full repeal of the Medicare sustainability growth rate (SGR) pay-for rather than a 13-month extension that isn’t paid for. 

“Unfortunately the parties could not come together on what a permanent fix would be,” Reid said. “We need to restore sanity to the Medicare system.”

But House Republicans did not support a plan put forward by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would have paid for a “permanent” fix using Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds.

Wyden tried to get consent to hold an up-or-down vote on his plan, but Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) objected.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said it was “cowardly” to pass a patch instead of a long-term solution.

“The bill we have on the floor is one of the reasons I’m leaving Congress at the end of the year,” Coburn said ahead of the vote. “We’re going to put off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. … This bill is a cowardly response to the real problem we have.”

House Republicans had passed a previous “doc fix” bill that was paid for by repealing parts of ObamaCare — a nonstarter with Senate Democrats.

The Protecting Access to Medicare Act, H.R. 4302, was subject to several possible budget points of order, and Sessions indicated he was prepared to formally raise some of them just before the final vote. Among other things, Sessions noted that the bill violated spending caps approved just weeks ago as part of the Ryan-Murray budget deal for 2014 and 2015.

But Democrats made a motion to waive all possible points of order against the bill, and that motion was upheld in a 64-35 vote.

House Republican leaders took heat from members of their own party for passing the short-term extension by voice vote last week.

The measure now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

— This story was updated Tuesday, 11:42 a.m.