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Congress Passes 'Doc Fix' Bill; Obama Calls for Permanent Fix

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 9, 2010

Updated at 3:10 PM ET

The U.S. House on Thursday afternoon voted 409-2 to delay by one year the nearly $20 billion in Medicare reimbursements cuts to physicians that were due to take effect Jan. 1.

The overwhelming and bipartisan vote came one day after the measure garnered unanimous consent in the Senate. President Obama said he supports the delay. He also called for a permanent solution to the "doc fix," a perennial Congressional sideshow.

"This agreement is an important step forward to stabilize Medicare, but our work is far from finished," Obama said. "For too long, we have confronted this reoccurring problem with temporary fixes and stop-gap measures. It's time for a permanent solution that seniors and their doctors can depend on and I look forward to working with Congress to address this matter once and for all in the coming year."

The Sustainable Growth Rate formula for Medicare funding dictates the cuts, which have repeatedly been temporarily delayed – including five times this year -- since Congress passed the measure a decade ago. In the latest round of cuts, physicians were facing a 25% reduction in Medicare reimbursements on Jan. 1. Delaying the cuts is expected to cost about $19.2 billion. 

The American Medical Association praised the lame duck Congress for its bipartisan support of the measure.

 "Stopping the steep 25% Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," said AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD. "Many physicians made clear that this year's roller coaster ride, caused by five delays of this year's cut, forced them to make difficult practice changes like limiting the number of Medicare patients they could treat." 

Wilson echoed the president's call for a permanent SGR solution. "The AMA will be working closely with Congressional leadership in the new year to develop a long-term solution to this perennial Medicare problem for seniors and their physicians. This one-year delay comes right as the oldest baby boomers reach age 65, adding urgency to the need for a long-term solution before this demographic tsunami swamps the Medicare program," he said.  

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