House to vote on physician pay today

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Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on a version of the Medicare physician pay bill-one that it hopes will spur the Senate into action. Long-term care advocates have been concerned that additional funding for physicians could wind up consuming assets that otherwise might go toward nursing home operators.

The House version is nearly identical to the measure introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) earlier this month. It will put on hold a 10.6% pay cut for Medicare physicians and increase their reimbursement rate by 1.1% beginning in 2009. Unlike its Senate counterparts, the House measure also will postpone the implementation of a competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment and remove payment reductions for oxygen and wheelchairs.

Lawmakers will consider the bill under a suspension of rules, meaning the measure will be fast-tracked through the House with no tacked-on amendments and a limited amount of debate before the vote. While this approach will ensure quick deliberation, it also requires a two-thirds majority to pass, and many Republicans are opposed to the private-fee-for-service plan cuts used to offset the costs of the bill.

If passed, the bill would put pressure on the Senate to pass legislation and place physician pay cuts on hold before the July 1 deadline. The Senate has thus far been unable to settle on the terms of any measure, having introduced three versions of the same bill since June 12.