The House is expected to vote this week on a "Doc Fix" bill to replace a flawed method of reimbursing Medicare providers, in a deal spearheaded by House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, The Wall Street Journal
The bill's specifics are set to be unveiled as early as Monday.
The measure is expected to face criticism from Democratic liberals over anti-abortion language and from Republican budget hawks.
Efforts to permanently overhaul the structure for calculating reimbursement for physicians and other Medicare providers have repeatedly run into partisan differences over how to pay for entitlements.
Some doctors have stopped taking new Medicare patients because the reimbursement rate is roughly 17 percent below the 2001 rate. For the past dozen years, Congress has repeatedly blocked Medicare reimbursement cuts on a piecemeal basis without substantively fixing the payment formula.
Congress needs to act by April 1 or doctors face a further 21 percent rate cut in Medicare reimbursement fees, The New York Times
To reach a deal, House Democrats were willing to require Medicare enrollees to carry some of the costs. Republicans agreed to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program as well as community health centers for two years, the Journal reported.
The total package is estimated to cost $200 billion over 10 years. Some $35 billion would be paid for by hiking premiums on more affluent senior citizens. Institutional providers like hospitals would absorb some of the costs, with the remaining $140 billion added to the national deficit.
Until now, Democrats had insisted that such a measure be paid for from either increased taxes or higher deficits.
"It's historic: fundamental structural changes in Medicare not sold on the back of a tax increase," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, the bill's co-sponsor and a doctor. He added, "It removes the imminent threat of draconian cuts to Medicare providers that have created uncertainty for millions of beneficiaries," according to the Times.
Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp said he found it "very disagreeable that somehow a fix means we just add it to the debt. That's the fix? That's not a fix. That's the same old Washington way of doing things that's been going on under both parties for decades. That's why we have $18 trillion in debt," the Times reported.
Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group, has embraced the compromise saying that its biggest benefits will accrue after the first 10 years, according to the Journal.
The deal was first broached when Boehner approached Pelosi to ask whether the Democratic leader would be willing to agree on a new Medicare reimbursement formula under which enrollees took on more of the costs, according to the Journal.
The bill's chances in the Senate are unclear with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee asking that the bill be modified, the Journal reported.
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