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 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.

The House last month passed a 19-month "doc fix," but the larger proposal drew howls from Senate Republicans, who have fought to offset the new costs. The Senate's scaled-down proposal, 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. 

Senate Minority Leader 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." 

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

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.

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

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the passage of the doc-fix bill should lend momentum to the tax-extenders proposal. "It's a good omen," Baucus said. 

It remains unclear what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will do with doctor claims filed in June. Although the cut technically arrives at the start of the month, CMS has effectively delayed it by holding June claims (in lieu of processing them) in hopes that Congress would act.

The agency's last delay, however, expired today.