The Senate unanimously passed a legislative package that reverses a scheduled Medicare physician pay cut of about 10% and extends funding for the the State Children's Health Insurance Program through the early part of 2009.
The Tuesday vote capped what was a rambunctious day on Capitol Hill, with members of the Senate Finance Committee rushing to put the final touches on the $4.6 billion Medicare bill not 24 hours earlier.
Included in the legislation are a host of provisions to extend several Medicare and Medicaid programs that were set to expire, including a physician quality-reporting initiative and a system of bonus payments to doctors who practice in shortage areas.
Next, the bill will go to the Houseperhaps as early as todayfor a final vote and expected passage.
Though it replaces what would have been a steep cut to doctors with a short-term, 0.5% pay increase through June 30, 2008, several physicians groups still registered complaints.
"We are disappointed that the Senate could only agree on a six-month action because it creates great uncertainty for Medicare patients and physicians," Edward Langston, board chairman of the American Medical Association, said in a written statement. "We strongly urge Congress to break the tradition of short-term interventions that are not fully funded and fail to chart a course for replacing a flawed payment formula that is a barrier to improving quality and access to care for seniors."
The bill also includes a provision that permanently freezes the inpatient rehabilitation compliance threshold at 60%instead of allowing it to rise to 75%and erases a 3.2% increase in Medicare payments that inpatient rehab providers expected to get in 2008.
Richard Pollack, executive vice president at the American Hospital Association, said that the association "is pleased" with many of the provisions, but added that Congress will have to deal with a number of other issues, such as physician self-referral and some Medicaid matters, early next month. -- by Matthew DoBias
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