Window narrowing for passage of Medicare bill

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Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass a Medicare bill before Christmas, and one senator has already publicly stated that such legislation might have to wait until January.

If a bill does not pass by the time Congress adjourns, nursing homes and other healthcare providers will face several new initiatives on the first of the year. Medicare therapy caps, for example, would be reinstated on Jan. 1. So far, an exceptions process has been in place, exempting most nursing home residents from the caps. Doctors also would face a fee cut of 10% next year. Medicare legislation is expected to address both issues. If passed in January, the bill could retroactively eliminate both measures.

Senate Democrats and Republicans this week failed to come to an agreement on the bill. One obstacle, said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), is the president's threat to veto a Medicare bill that would cut managed care plans to fund the legislation.

In related news, the Senate today could consider a $522 billion omnibus budget package that would include 11 unapproved fiscal year 2008 appropriations bills.