Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) during a teleconference offered a few kernels of hope that a majority-sponsored Medicare bill could be approved by the Senate this week and signed into law.
Baucus joined House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and other Medicare advocates to rally for swift passage of the bill, which would halt Medicare payment cuts to physicians through 2009 and make other adjustments to the program. A 10.6% cut to Medicare physician payments went into effect July 1.
Clearly, theres a lot of pressure for the Senate GOP to approve the legislation, said Baucus, who added that hed spoken with a few Republicans who might possibly vote yea this time around on a motion to proceed with the bill. Senators previously fell one vote short of the 60 needed to proceed with the legislation, then recessed for the Fourth of July holiday, leaving physicians in a payment limbo until at least this week. The House had approved the bill by a veto-proof margin.
President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, however, which proposes cuts to Medicare Advantage private fee-for-service payments as a primary source to fund the physician-payment fix. The bill is expected to be reconsidered in the full Senate either Wednesday or Thursday, Baucus said.
Senate GOP leaders in the meantime have been pushing for a vote in the Senate that would freeze Medicare physician payments for 31 days, which would buy more time to reach a bipartisan solution. Baucus dismissed this approach, claiming it would be too confusing in light of the CMS recent decision to delay the 10.6% cut to physician payments until July 15. -- by Jennifer Lubell