America

Senate Agrees To Stop Deep Medicare Pay Cuts

Kicking the can down the road is something senators are masterful at so it should come as no surprise that they've done it once again with the so-called Medicare "doc fix" issue.

Physicians were due to see a 21 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements because a 1997 law requires as much when the program's spending hits a certain level.

But senators on Friday agreed to a six-month fix that allows them to get past the November elections.

The Hill website reports that senators were in a self-congratulatory mood.

"I'm glad we were able to work this out,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the bill "achieves a goal that both sides wanted to achieve."

Over the years, lawmakers have repeatedly come up with short-term solutions to the problem since a longer term answer could require either Medicare tax increases or health care spending cuts, both of which would obviously be unpopular to many voters.

In recent weeks, the Senate has been hung up on how to solve the problem, with Republicans refusing to agree to significant additional spending that would expand the deficit.

Another excerpt from The Hill:

"And we've done it," McConnell added, "without adding to the deficit."

NPR's Julie Rovner, who covers health care, noted in a report for the network's newscast that Republicans have in the past kicked the can down the road by adding to the deficit:

Republicans, who generally didn't pay to offset Medicare doctor cuts when they cancelled them between 2003 and 2006, now say they don't want to add any more money to the deficit.

Meanwhile, Medicare officials say they can't wait any longer for Congress to act, and they've begun paying — at the reduced rate — the bills they've been holding since June 1.

That's when the last bill to delay the cut expired. The Senate on Friday passed a bill to cancel the cut for another six months, but the House had already left for the weekend. So no further action can take place until next week.

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