Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

Fresh from a two-week vacation, the Senate plans to vote this week to once again temporarily halt a 21.2% cut in Medicare physician pay, which also affects Medicare Part B therapy rates for nursing homes.

Senators voted Monday night 60-34 to end debate and move toward a final vote on a package of bills that includes freezing Medicare payment cuts. The bill would extend higher payments through April 30. The extension package was the first major issue taken up by the Senate after its spring recess. Besides the physician pay schedule fix, the bill extends unemployment insurance provisions under COBRA until May 5. The bill, H.R. 4851, is the latest in a string of temporary extension packages to pass through Congress since Jan 1. Medicare Part B therapy rates are in limbo until the Senate takes action on the physician pay issue.

The so-called “doc fix” has become an annual dilemma for lawmakers. While they have talked about ending the scheduled annual cuts, they have not resolved how to pay for restoring the payments long-term.