House passes Obama-backed doc fix

The House approved a one-year "doc fix" Thursday afternoon that will prevent a dramatic cut in Medicare physician payments.

The measure was approved in a 409-2 vote one day after the Senate approved the $19.2 billion fix by unanimous consent. 

Without the action, Medicare payments to doctors would have been cut 25 percent on Jan. 1, sparking fears that Medicare beneficiaries' access to physicians would be limited. Obama urged Congress to pass the bill, even though it taps into the healthcare reform law for funding.

The reform law creates state-run exchanges through which certain people may purchase insurance starting in 2014. The law provides subsidies for those under a specified income limit — about $88,000 for a family of four — and includes recapture penalties to those whose income exceeds the limit. The reform law provided a flat-cap penalty of $250 for individuals and $400 for families, but the so-called "doc fix" agreement is funded by higher penalties to those with higher incomes.

The bill now goes to Obama's desk, after he urged Congress on Wednesday to use the next year to develop a more permanent fix to the Medicare physician rate formula.

"It’s time for a permanent solution that seniors and their doctors can depend on, and I look forward to working with Congress to address this matter once and for all in the coming year," he said in a statement.

This makes the fifth time Congress has approved a temporary fix to Medicare physician rates this year. The latest agreement was hammered out by staffers of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).


The bill also includes extensions for a number of Medicare programs, including an extension of the therapy caps exception process through the next year.

The American Medical Association praised Congress for approving the fix, saying that the healthcare industry will soon be challenged by an increasing number of seniors.

"This one-year delay comes right as the oldest baby boomers reach age 65, adding urgency to the need for a long-term solution before this demographic tsunami swamps the Medicare program," AMA President Cecil Wilson said in a statement. 

Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) were the only House members to vote against the doc fix.