UPDATE: House, Senate pass one-year "doc fix"

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | December 09, 2010
The Senate passed a one-year freeze on steep Medicare payment cuts to doctors Wednesday night. The bill, passed by unanimous consent, holds off a 25 percent Medicare cut to doctors due to take effect Jan. 1.

The U.S. House of Representatives then passed the bill Thursday in an overwhelming 409-2 vote.

The fully-paid for $19.2 billion bill is offset by raising overpayment penalties for consumers who will get tax subsidies to buy health insurance from state-run exchanges, starting in 2014.

The bill also repeals a delay in implementing a new Medicare payment structure for nursing homes, and extends the therapy caps exception process through next year.

The bipartisan legislation comes from a deal hashed out Tuesday among Senate leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

The bill now heads to President Obama for signing. Doctor's groups, like the American Medical Association, have pushed for the one-year reprieve in order to have time to hash out a permanent solution to the cuts, which come about from the sustainable growth rate, born of a 1990s law requiring Medicare payments to be in line with national growth. It's estimated a permanent fix could cost more than $200 billion over the next decade.

"We look forward to building on this bipartisan effort to develop a workable long-term solution to the broken physician payment system that bedevils seniors, military families and physicians," Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, president of the AMA, said in prepared remarks.