UPDATE: The measure passed the House Friday 293-132, and it cleared the Senate 60-36. It was headed to President Obama for his signature.
ORIGINAL POST: Election year pragmatism has apparently replaced the bitterness of last year’s Congress-White House political battles–and opened the door to another “doc fix” that heads off draconian Medicare reimbursement cuts for the next 10 months.
The deal was reached Thursday by leaders of the House and Senate and extends a temporary two-month fix that was scheduled to end on Feb. 29.
A final vote on the agreement was expected to take place over the weekend.
The doc fix, necessary to avoid a 27.4% cut to physicians, psychologists, clinical social workers and other health care providers, comes up every year. But in light of the acrimony on display last summer over budgets and deficits, some analysists suggested that this could be the year of the Big Cut.
Laura Groshong, a lobbyist and director of government relations with the Clinical Social Work Association, told us in December: “I’m less optimistic now than I’ve ever been. It’s hard to believe that a 34% cut would be allowed, and I’m hoping we can come up with a way to at least minimize it. But at this point I have to be realistic and look at what actually could happen. It’s a very discouraging time.”
The 34% cut was on the table because mental health care providers faced an additional 5% reduction ordered — but again, put on hold — in 2007 as well as another 2% cut that could go into effect in 2013 as a result of the so-called “Super Committee’s” failure to identify meaty budget cuts last November.
This year’s doc fix will cost $20 billion, a quarter of which will be carbed out of the health care reform law’s prevention fund. Another $2.5 billion will come from Medicaid money earmarked for Louisiana. Medicaid payments to hospitals will be cut.
The 10-month reprieve means that the old familiar issue will pop up again before the end of the year. “By taking this to December, it means we get to revisit it again right around Christmas,” congressional analyst Mary Anges Carey told Kaiser Health News on Thursday.
By then, there will be a new political landscape (regardless of which party wins the White House and Congress) and and officials may be able to hammer out a longer-term solution.
- John Nelander, Contributing Editor