In a historic consensus, Republican and Democratic senators temporarily forgot about their rivalry and voted Wednesday a bill that would prevent a pestering requirement of a cost-containment program from reducing the pay of doctors under Medicare.
Legislators have already voted 17 times since 2003 to stop that provision from automatically coming into effect and cutting physicians’ pay by up to 21 percent. The new bill also grants billions of extra dollars for health care plans designed for children and low-income family members, and more money for community health care centers.
The move was approved Wednesday with a 92-8 vote, while the House passed it 392-37 less than three weeks ago. Republicans who took over the lead of the Senate in January were happy to prove that their party hadn’t lost its touch on conducting congressional business efficiently.
However, some Conservatives contested the measure for making the deficit even wider because of the approval of $214 billion worth of costs aimed to cover Medicare expenses over the next ten years. Liberals, on the other hand, were upset that not enough money was granted to women and children programs.
But Mitch McConnell, the new Majority Leader of the Senate, was optimistic. He said that the recent move was a reminder that a new Republican Congress was ready to resume work. He also said that his party was aware that the bill wasn’t perfect, but it did was a “sensible compromise” backed by partisan support.
Democratic leaders were also content with the new piece of legislation. Sen. Ron Wyden described the freshly-voted bill as a “milestone” for Medicare. President Obama was also surprised by the unity of the Congress on the matter during times of prolonged inner conflicts. He promised to soon sign the bill into law.
The bill erases a 1997 law which was designed to curb Medicare’s growth by enforcing deep cuts in reimbursements to health providers involved in the program. Doctors have threatened several times that they would stop treating their elderly patients if the cuts came into effect. Congressional lawmakers blocked 17 times those reductions since 2003 after a series of difficult choices on alternative funding sources that both parties hated.
The new bill would allow doctors to bill their Medicare patients for their overall health care, rather than separate office visits. Republicans hope that the new bill will have long-term effects on the program’s finances.
About $141 billion of the funding needed to cover the costs over a single decade would come from federal funding, while $35 billion would be provided by upper-income Medicare enrollees that would see their prescription drug and medical premiums raised by 2018.
However, the measure is expected to upset those beneficiaries which already pay higher premiums than low-income people. So, Congress expects a backslash from elderly voters the next Election Day.
The bill would also make sure that an extra $37 billion worth of savings would be made by cutting reimbursements to hospitals and other providers involved in Medicare plans.
If the bill hadn’t been approved, Medicare doctors would have faced up to 21 percent cuts in their fees as of April 1, 2015.
Image Source: Murdoch Independent