Washington • Congressional leaders agreed Wednesday on legislation to avert a threatened 24 percent cut in fees to doctors who treat Medicare patients, and they said votes were likely in both houses before Monday’s deadline.
The legislation would prevent the cut for 12 months. The measure also contains numerous other health care provisions of interest to doctors, hospitals and drug companies.
The House was on track to vote Thursday; Senate action was less certain.
Because of a flawed formula dating to 1997, Medicare doctors are threatened with big fee cuts almost every year. After allowing a 4.8 percent Medicare fee cut to take effect in 2002, Congress has since stepped in 16 times to prevent the cuts and must act again by midnight Monday to avoid them again.
When Congress has blown the deadline in the past, Medicare has dealt with the problem by simply delaying processing payments until the formula had been raised.
The move for yet another temporary fix comes as efforts for permanently solving the recurring Medicare problem are foundering. There is widespread support for bipartisan legislation to repair, once and for all, the broken Medicare formula, but there is no agreement on how to bear the 10-year, $140 billion cost.
New Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wants to keep working on a permanent solution. He proposes using savings from lower costs for operations in Afghanistan. Republicans are demanding savings from President Barack Obama’s health care law. The resulting impasse has left lawmakers little alternative than to move another temporary fix.
It also contains a provision benefiting, among others, Amgen Inc., which produces an oral drug for kidney dialysis patients. It would extend through 2024 a controversial provision to allow payments for Sensipar, which is made by Amgen, to be made on top of other "bundled" payments made to treat Medicare patients with kidney disease. The measure also delays implementation of newer, more precise Medicare treatment and payment codes, which has upset the health care information management industry and specialty physicians who stand to benefit from the updated codes. But doctors are happy since it saves them from having to pay a lot of money to upgrade their payment systems.
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