Without a fix, doctors face a 21% cut in Medicare fees. It's the consequence of a 1990s budget law that Congress has repeatedly waived.
The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill with rare support from both top leaders in the House that would permanently fix the problem. Obama backed the idea of a fix at a White House event marking this week's five-year anniversary of his signing the Affordable Care Act, while stopping short of backing the House compromise.
"As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system. I have my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill," he said.
The House bills calls for a period of basically stable reimbursements, followed by gradually shifting a larger share of doctors' pay so that it's keyed to quality, rather than quantity, of service. The Medicare fix is packaged with an extension of children's health insurance, funding for community health centers and dozens of other provisions. The outlook in the Senate is unclear.
Drafted with the unusual support of both top leaders in the House—Speaker John Boehner for the GOP and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi—the bill is aiming for the political center. That seemed to have collapsed on health care in the battles over President Barack Obama's overhaul.
The legislation is being criticized from the political right and the left. Conservatives don't like that most of the cost will be added to the federal deficit. Liberals object to higher premiums for upper-income beneficiaries, when drug companies are not being asked to share the burden through Medicare rebates.