By Tina Nazerian
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill yesterday backed by House Speaker John Boehner designed to provide a more predictable way for the government to pay physicians treating Medicare patients.
By a vote of 392-37, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where it likely will win approval next month. President Barack Obama has promised to sign the bill, which was cosponsored by Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Boehner, R-West Chester, called the bill the “first real” reform of the major federal entitlement programs of Medicare and Social Security in “nearly two decades,” adding the bill would put Medicare on a “more sound financial footing.”
“Over the long term
— the next 20, 30, 40 years — the bill will produce hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of durable savings for taxpayers,” Boehner said.
Despite the easy bipartisan vote, some conservatives insisted the bill would add to the deficit in the short term. Michael Needham, chief executive officer of the conservative nonprofit Heritage Action, said the bill “increases spending in the near term for promises of woefully inadequate long-term reductions.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that the bill would increase the federal deficit by $141 million during the next 11 years. But the CBO also predicted that the bill would cost $1 billion less during the next decade than if Congress simply continued to freeze physician payments.
The bill, colloquially deemed the “Doc Fix,” attempts to rein in rising costs for Medicare, which provides health care to more than 54 million elderly people. Medicare spending is projected by the CBO to grow from $535 billion in 2013 to more than $1 trillion in 2023.
The bill would scrap the current formula and increase a physician’s pay for Medicare patients by 0.05 percent every year for the next five years. If Congress does not act, physicians would face a 21 percent payment cut beginning next month.
With the bill, lawmakers attempted to devise a solution for a physician-payment problem that has bedeviled them since 1997. Because that payment formula was so tight, Congress repeatedly had to pass an increase for physician payments.
“The bill we passed is not perfect,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township. “There’s much more work that needs to be done, but it is a good precedent as we work to fix our broken entitlement system.”
The bill also included a measure sponsored by Tiberi to require binding bids for durable medical equipment bought by Medicare.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, also voted for the bill, saying it corrects longstanding flaws in Medicare “that have put our seniors at risk. The legislation allows us to create a system that rewards the care physicians provide and helps improve the accuracy of payments.”
Republican Jim Jordan of Urbana was the only Ohio lawmaker to vote against the bill.