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Senate Delays Vote on Medicare Payment Fix for at Least Two Weeks

Politicians pause for holiday break

The Senate will wait more than 2 weeks before acting on a bill to permanently fix the flawed formula for reimbursing Medicare physicians, after an April 1 deadline to start a 21% cut in payment rates.

Senate Republican and Democratic leaders said March 27 that they would take the bill up when they return on April 13 from an Easter/Passover break.

The measure, a rare bipartisan achievement in a deeply divided Congress, was overwhelmingly approved March 26 by the House of Representatives.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he has been reassured that the delay would not cause doctors to see lower Medicare payments because of the lag time in the normal processing of payments.

The measure, drafted and driven forward by Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, would fix a long-standing problem with how Medicare pays doctors. A 1997 budget-cutting bill reduced the payment rates based on a flawed formula linking doctors’ pay to economic growth, but Congress has routinely passed temporary fixes to forestall cuts.

The measure, approved 392 to 37 by the House, would create a new payment formula focused on the quality of care. To help pay for these higher rates, the bill would also impose higher premiums on wealthier Medicare beneficiaries.

However, the proposal would add $141 billion to U.S. deficits over 10 years, according to congressional forecasters, sparking opposition from fiscal conservatives.

Medicare serves 54 million elderly and disabled people. Under the new plan, a Medicare recipient with an annual income of between $133,000 and $160,000 would see their Medicare premium share increase from 50% to 65%, and a recipient with an annual income of between $160,000 and $214,000 would pay 75% rather than 65% percent.

Source: Reuters; March 27, 2015.

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