Senate passes six-month 'doc fix'

By unanimous consent, the Senate on Friday passed legislation to prevent Medicare doctors from receiving a 21 percent pay cut this month.

The “doc fix” bill — which would delay the scheduled cut for almost six months — now moves to the House, where lawmakers are expected to take it up early next week.

ADVERTISEMENT
The House last month passed a 19-month fix, but the larger proposal drew pushback from Senate Republicans, who have fought to offset the new costs.

The Senate's scaled-down version, estimated to cost $6.5 billion, provides a 2.2 percent increase in Medicare reimbursements to doctors through November. The proposal is fully offset, largely by tweaking reimbursements to hospitals.

"I'm glad we were able to work this out,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the bill "achieves a goal that both sides wanted to achieve."

"And we've done it," McConnell added, "without adding to the deficit."

To speed passage of the doc-fix provision, Democrats this week plucked it from the larger tax-extenders bill they've been trying to pass for weeks. That proposal contains a number of additional healthcare provisions, including funding for state Medicaid programs designed to shore up struggling state budgets.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel's senior Republican, Chuck Grassley (Iowa), forged a deal on the “doc fix” late Thursday and presented it to their party members on Friday.

Baucus called the development "a good omen" as the Senate attempts to work out the tax extenders bill.

He said passage of the doc-fix bill should lend momentum to the tax extenders proposal.

Reid on Friday vowed to pass the larger extenders bill "at the earliest possible date."

Although the pay cut technically took hold at the start of June, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) had delayed it through most of the month, telling claims handlers to hold claims in lieu of processing them. The idea was to delay the cut until Congress acted to prevent it.

On Friday, however, CMS lost patience with Congress, instructing those contractors to start paying June claims — including the 21 percent cut.

This post was updated at 2:24 p.m.