Medicare pay-cut delay passes House

Medicare bill that delays a scheduled pay cut for doctors now goes to Obama. Taxpayer cost: $19 billion.

Eric Gay/AP/File
A woman reads information relating to Medicare at the offices of Dr. Kathryn Wagner, a breast cancer surgeon, Nov. 10, in San Antonio. Dr. Wagner has posted the warning in her waiting room warning that she'll stop taking new Medicare cases if Congress allows looming cuts in doctors' pay to go through. On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to delay those cuts, following a similar Senate vote. The bill now goes to President Obama.

The House has passed and sent to President Barack Obama a bill to delay for a year an impending sharp cut in Medicare pay to doctors that threatened to disrupt care for the nation's seniors.

The action to prevent a scheduled 25 percent cut to doctors on Jan. 1 will cost an estimated $19 billion, to be paid for by shifting money from the health care overhaul law. The money will come mostly from tightening the rules on tax credits in the health care law intended to prevent waste. The credits will make premiums more affordable for millions.

The 409-2 House vote came a day after the Senate approved the measure by a voice vote. It now goes to Obama, who had urged quick passage of the measure he said was "an important step forward to stabilize Medicare."

The doctor cuts are the result of a 1990s budget-balancing law that tried, but failed, to keep Medicare spending in line through automatic reductions. Congress repeatedly stepped in to waive the cuts. Lately, lawmakers have had to act every few months.

Congress was under tremendous pressure this time, with medical groups estimating that as many as two-thirds of doctors would stop taking new Medicare patients. Health care for military service members, their families and retirees was also in jeopardy, since Tricare payments are tied to Medicare's.

The one-year delay "was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," said Cecil B. Wilson, president of the American Medical Association. "Many physicians made clear that this year's roller coaster ride, caused by five delays of this year's cut, forced them to make difficult practice changes like limiting the number of Medicare patients they could treat."

Congress will use the 12-month reprieve to try to come up with a new way of paying doctors that rewards quality care instead of sheer numbers of tests and procedures.

"For too long, we have confronted this recurring problem with temporary fixes and stopgap measures," Obama said. "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."

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