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House approves Medicare 'fix'

Wesley Lowery
(c) 2014, The Washington Post


WASHINGTON — The House quickly approved another "doc fix" bill Thursday that will serve as a temporary solution to an ongoing problem in the formula used to determine Medicare funding levels.

After hours of uncertainty over whether the bill had sufficient support, House Republican leaders moved quickly to approve the measure by voice vote.

The bill, which is expected to be taken up and passed by the Senate on Monday, prevents a 24 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians under Medicare.

House Democrats criticized the bill, insisting that Congress should have voted on a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate model.

"This is a Band-Aid," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a speech before the vote. "There are so many things that are wrong with this bill, but the simple fact is that the clock is ticking and on March 31, it's bad news for our seniors and the doctors that treat them."

The "doc fix" is the latest incarnation of a bill passed frequently by the House — sometimes multiple times per year — that avoids a sharp drop-off in Medicare payments.

In 1997, Congress created the sustainable growth rate, a system that pegs the amount of money budgeted for Medicare payments to the economy's projected growth. However, within a few years, health-care costs far outpaced economic growth, creating a multibillion-dollar shortfall in funding for Medicare payments.

Since 2003, Congress has approved "doc fix" bills that appropriate more money to Medicare funding to avoid cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.

The current "doc fix" bill expires March 31. If Congress fails to pass another patch or approve a bill overhauling Medicare payments, costs will skyrocket for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

This year's legislation also includes a new delay of Medicaid cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients that were ordered under the Affordable Care Act.

"We need to fix this permanently, not patch it every year," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "It's a fraud, and both sides have committed that fraud. We have to fix this."

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