Healthcare groups build pressure for Senate 'doc fix' vote

Several leading healthcare groups are urging Senate leaders to move quickly to approve a long-awaited Medicare “doc fix” bill before a key deadline on Wednesday.

Many of the groups, including the American Health Care Association, are urging the Senate to take up the House bill without the chance for amendments, warning any changes could hurt the bill's chances of passage.

The Senate is expected to vote on the package on Tuesday, but will likely allow some time for amendments, according to aides and lobbyists familiar with the negotiations. The debate will be limited and amendments will likely require 60 votes, making the chances of passage slim.

When the Senate returns on Monday, it will have just two days to pass a bill, or Medicare doctors will face double-digit cuts in their reimbursement rates. If the bill is amended, the House would either need to vote on that legislation, or there would need to be a lengthy conference involving negotiators from both chambers. 

The groups called on the Senate to accept the House-passed version, which included compromises on the bill’s final price tag — which adds about $141 billion to the deficit — and a two-year funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, instead of the four years preferred by Democrats.

“The bipartisan support for H.R. 2 in the House set a clear directive for the Senate, and we encourage them to pass this legislation swiftly and without revision,” The American Health Care Association wrote in a statement Monday.

Proponents fear the last-minute demands could sink a bill personally crafted by Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

A coalition of hospitals sent letters to Senate offices on Monday calling for quick passage of the bill, which eliminates a two-decade old payment problem called the “sustainable growth rate” or SGR.

“While the legislation produced in the House is not perfect, it provides a balanced approach to addressing the [sustainable growth rate],” the group, which includes the American Hospital Association and the American Federation of Hospitals, wrote in the letters.

Non-health groups also urged passage.

“We strongly support this bipartisan initiative,” the National Retail Foundation wrote in a letter to McConnell and Reid on Monday, while adding that the group ”note[s] and commend[s] the two year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the SGR package.”