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August 1, 2014

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In last-minute vote, Senate OKs Medicare ‘doc fix’

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AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., walk out to speak to reporters after their meeting at the White House in Washington with President Obama regarding the budget and possible government shutdown, Wednesday, April 6, 2011.

Congress narrowly avoided an awkward funding cut Monday that, had it kicked in April 1, could have caused enough of a cut in compensation rates so as to cause doctors who treat Medicare patients to start turning them away.

The “doc fix” is a patch provision that will keep the Medicare rates paid to doctors who see elderly patients stable for the next 13 months.

Passing the legislation came down to the wire in the Senate, which voted 64-35 Monday to approve the legislation, already passed by the House, before the deadline.

But even though it’s headed to President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature, the argument over Medicare compensation is far from over.

For years, lawmakers have bemoaned the fact that there has never been an overhaul of the cuts to prevent this problem of paying Medicare doctors a predictable rate from cropping up on an annual basis.

That annual tradition has turned Medicare compensation into an occasion political minefield. Earlier this year, the “doc fix” legislation seemed sure to run aground on a House-backed effort to tie it to a delay of the Obamacare individual mandate. The House eventually revisited the legislation, passing a version without any such demands by voice vote late week.

In the Senate, new Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden has proposed paying for a permanent “doc fix” with Overseas Contingency Operations funds — an approach that Senate Republicans haven’t warmed to.

So instead, lawmakers rallied around a bill that was nobody’s first choice — but one that will conceivably keep doctors treating seniors for the time being.

“The fact remains that the agreement we have in place is not ideal,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “Regrettably, we just don’t have the votes right now to fix this problem for good.”

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