House votes to thwart cuts to Medicare payments; quick vote stirs controversy

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After a spurt of partisan wrangling, the House voted Thursday to stave off deep cuts in Medicare payments to physicians at the end of the month.

The chamber green-lighted the measure by a voice vote — members did not have to record their votes — despite Democratic opposition to passing yet another “doc fix,” an annual ritual that overrides a 17-year-old payment formula, even when it calls for a cut.

Its quick approval set off confusion and raised some eyebrows, because the measure was controversial and required two-thirds support from the chamber to pass.

Democrats such as Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey said Congress could still approve a new structure that scraps the unpopular Medicare formula and replaces it with a permanent system that rewards doctors for quality of care, a longstanding goal for both parties.

“This bill does nothing to achieve that goal, in fact it sets back months and months of hard work,” Mr. Pallone said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called the GOP bill a “missed opportunity.”

But Republicans warned that payment cuts set to take effect next week could affect patients’ care.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the GOP bill a rushed endeavor and a “missed opportunity,” but said the “simple fact is the clock is ticking” and that seniors will be depending on the quick fix. On the floor, she told her colleagues to vote as they see fit.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders praised the measure’s passage while reiterating their desire to overhaul the Medicare payment system.

“Our work is far from done, but today we restore some certainty to our seniors that their trusted doctor will be available when they are in need of care,” Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The measure heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which will be under pressure to act before the previous patch expires on Monday.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, had worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to develop the latest fix while Congress works out a long-term solution.

“What there isn’t agreement on it, how are we going to pay for it?” Mr. Boehner said Wednesday. “So I think we need to take this [short-term] step first.”

Earlier this month, House Republicans shepherded to passage a measure that would pay for the $100 billion-plus repeal of the Medicare formula by scrapping the part of the new health care law that requires almost all Americans to hold health insurance. The idea is that less people will seek government subsidies that help them pay for Obamacare plans.

Many Democrats, however, objected to that funding scheme because it would get rid of the linchpin of Mr. Obama’s law.

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