Bipartisanship is not completely dead on Capitol Hill, as leaders of both parties in the House and the Senate announced Thursday they have a plan to advance a bill to permanently fix the reimbursement rate for Medicare physicians.
The deal was struck by House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi – two leaders who have traditionally been at odds on big-ticket legislation.
The House Energy and Commerce committee announced “nearly identical” bills being introduced in both chambers that would replace the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate with a payment system that has “a 0.5% payment update each year for five years,” as well as other ways to streamlining ways doctors who accept Medicare are paid.
“The bipartisan, bicameral bill seeks to end the cycle of annual ‘Doc Fix’ crises that have created uncertainty for millions of Medicare providers and beneficiaries for over a decade and also create a system that promotes higher quality care for America’s seniors,” a release from committee leaders in both parties stated.
Congress had repeatedly punted on this issue – 17 times in total – by using a temporary “patch” or “doc fix” but this year they negotiated a way to fix the formula so that significant cuts wouldn’t hit health care providers.
If Congress fails to address this issue, doctors treating Medicare patients could see cut of more than 20% in payments starting next month.
Boehner and Pelosi modeled their plan on legislation introduced in the last Congress, and there has been bipartisan support for finally structuring a long-term mechanism to do away with the outdated formula for paying physicians.
The emerging deal in the House also adds a two-year extension of a popular children’s health care program to the “doc fix” bill. The program was set to expire at the end of the year.
When asked why he chose to cut a deal with the Democrats on the bill instead of running it by his own members, Boehner said, “I just think that there was an opportunity that presented itself to work in a bipartisan way to find the appropriate offsets, spending offsets.”
“And the door opened, and I decided to walk in it. As simple as that,” he said.
The total price tag of the bill is roughly $200 billion, but only about one-third of it is offset with cuts elsewhere so Boehner is risking angering conservatives again.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also agreed to some structural changes as part of the agreement, including some “means testing” for beneficiaries of the program – something Democrats have resisted in the past.
A vote is expected on the House floor next week.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday the White House was aware of the negotiations but it was too soon to weigh in on the administration’s formal position.
“Ultimately these are negotiations that are taking place on Capitol Hill, and so I’d refer you to those individual offices for questions about any agreement that may be nearing completion,” he said.