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Senate Delays Doc Pay Cut for 30 Days

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 3, 2010

The Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday night to delay for 30 days a 21.2% pay cut in Medicare reimbursement for physicians. The tally came after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-KY, agreed to a vote after blocking the measure since last week.

By agreeing to the physician pay cut delay, the Senate finally joined the House, which approved its 30-day delay legislation last week. By a 78-19 vote, the Senate approved the measure.

Bunning repeatedly blocked the $10 billion measure since last Thursday, saying it was too costly, referring not only to the physician issue, but also to other programs, such as Medicare, COBRA, and unemployment and highway projects.

While Bunning put a stranglehold on the measure, physician organization grew increasingly angry with the Senate, saying its inability to pass legislation was detrimental to patients, particularly senior citizens.

Before voting, Democrats and Republicans spent hours on Tuesday bickering over the wide-ranging ranging legislation. Around 9 p.m. last night, however, Democratic leadership and Bunning reached an agreement. Bunning was given the opportunity to offer a tax loophole amendment on paper products, which was defeated.

"We have a clear cut example of what's wrong with Washington, DC," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, on the floor. "One single Republican senator is forcing doctors to take a 21 % cut" that could have an impact on senior citizens, Murray said.

Through much of the day, Bunning said he was steadfast in voting against the legislation, adding that the country was "going to implode in [a] massive amount of debt."

At one point on Tuesday, Bunning indicated that he had support of physicians in Kentucky, despite the physician pay cut issue. "As far as docs are concerned, I have a history with ‘doc fix," Bunning told his colleagues, referring to the nickname of the legislation to stave off the physician pay cuts. "I don't need to defend myself to the majority leader, just check with the Kentucky Medical Association."

Without Senate action, the physician pay cut technically took effective on March 1, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services postponed the action by instructing contractors to hold claims for at least 10 days. The CMS indicated that it expected a congressional response would prevent the cuts.

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