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Medicare Deal Waits for Senate Decision

Two days left before doctors face double-digit pay cut

This week brings an answer to one of the biggest questions on the House’s recently passed Medicare “doctor fix” bill: Will the Senate follow suit?

The Senate will have 2 days after returning from recess on April 13 to pass a bill that stops automatic double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors’ reimbursement rates. However, a vote on the House legislation is still not scheduled, according to a report from The Hill.

Senators from both parties, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have urged GOP leaders to allow amendments on the roughly $200 billion Medicare reform package. Democrats are seeking a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while Republicans are calling for a way to offset the entire cost of the bill.

But supporters worry that any modifications could endanger the legislation, which was negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“We really think a clean bill would hasten the process and that amendments would probably just slow the process down,” said Dr. Robert Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to say whether the bill will include amendments.

As the Senate scrambles to meet the April 15 deadline for the “doc fix,” Congress will be on track to miss another annual deadline — for the national budget.

Wednesday is the official legal deadline for Congress to pass its budget resolution, although lawmakers rarely meet it. Still, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the chairmen of the two budget committees, met April 9 as they work to bridge the gaps between each chamber’s version.

One of the main advantages of passing the budget bill, from a Republican perspective, is that it will allow lawmakers to use a process known as reconciliation to pass an alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) with 51 votes in the Senate instead of the usual 60. The GOP alternative is intended to fill the large hole in the law that would be left if the Supreme Court rules for the challengers in the case of King v. Burwell and invalidates the subsidies used by more than 7 million people in roughly 36 states to buy insurance.

The House Ways and Means health subcommittee will hold a hearing April 14 on the PPACA’s employer and individual mandates, two of the main targets of Republicans critical of the Act. The Senate Finance Committee will also meet April 14 for a hearing on how to make Medicare audits and appeals more efficient. And on the same day, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on improving post-acute care under Medicare.

Source: The Hill; April 13, 2015.

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