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Procedural vote expected on doc pay


By Matthew DoBias
Posted: April 12, 2010 - 2:45 pm ET
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The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote this afternoon on a bill that would temporarily freeze Medicare physician payment rates and extend a host of health-related benefits for the unemployed.

Physicians have worked under the specter of a 21% pay cut for most of the year now, with Congress forced to step in and implement short-term extensions to keep the reductions at bay. The legislation keeps the higher pay schedule in place until April 30. If approved, a final vote could come as early as Wednesday.

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But Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that the ultimate goal is to scrap the flawed sustainable growth-rate formula in favor of a new structure that rewards higher quality of care. Some of those components are inherent in the new health reform law, she said.

Meantime, Stabenow said that the Senate would push for a longer-term fix. “We’ll have to see how exactly we put that together,” she said during a conference call with reporters. The current bill, however, has stalled in the Senate over funding squabbles between some Republicans and Democrats.

Provisions in the legislative package also extend premium assistance for the COBRA health insurance program until April 30 and unemployment assistance through May 5.

Though it is just a series of short-term extensions, the legislation nevertheless costs around $7.5 billion over a 10-year budget window. As is, the package is unpaid, meaning it would add to the national deficit.

Democratic leaders have argued that the measures should be considered emergency spending, which would effectively allow them to waive what’s known as “pay as you go” rules. The Senate passed a bill that extends the doc fix until Oct. 1, but that package has yet to be finalized.

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