Congress nears crunch time on Medicare bill

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The House could vote this week on a Medicare package, but some industry experts have doubts that Congress will pass such legislation before the New Year.

Congress needs to agree on a bill soon to address critical Medicare measures. One is Medicare therapy caps, which are set to take effect on Jan. 1. Also of concern to nursing homes is the 3.3% market basket update, which has been in effect since October. Nursing home advocates fear that Congress will cut into this increase to raise money for other programs, such as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The clock also is ticking on a physician fee cut scheduled for Jan. 1.

The Senate Finance Committee last week failed to come to an agreement on a Medicare bill and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) said the committee would not mark up Medicare legislation. The House is set to vote this week on a massive spending measure. While a Medicare bill could be a part of this legislation, there may not be enough time to attach a Medicare agreement. Last year, Congress reached an agreement on Medicare on the last day of the session.