Barton draft bill may trigger turf battle

According to draft legislation obtained by The Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) is circulating a proposal to prevent a pending cut in Medicare's payments to physicians that is substantially different from the method favored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).

Lobbyists working to press Congress to block the 5.1 percent cut, which will take effect Jan. 1, said that the divide between the two chairman could endanger the prospects of Congress resolving the payments issue before it leaves at the end of the month, or even before the end of the year.

Both lawmakers want to link the payment changes to programs that would require doctors to report information about the quality of the care they provide. According to the Barton draft and sources familiar with Thomas's package, the two chairmen would allocate future payment increases at different levels.

The parallel process of devising the physician-payments language also reflects longstanding jurisdictional tensions over Medicare between the two committees that predate both chairmen's tenures.