Senate approves bipartisan 'doc fix' bill

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan "doc fix" bill in a vote of 92-8 on Tuesday, repealing the sustainable growth rate formula and ending the yearly ritual of Congress passing short-term patches to stall Medicare reimbursement cuts to physicians.

The U.S. House passed the legislation, H.R. 2, with a vote of 392-37 in March.

The final votes in the Senate occurred late Tuesday evening, as six amendments — three from each party — were floated. However, the Senate voted all six of them down.

The bill is now headed to President Barack Obama's desk, and he has already indicated he will sign the legislation. "It's a milestone for physicians and for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare for their healthcare needs," President Obama said in a statement, according to The Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) crafted the legislation, which is expected to cost more than $210 billion over 10 years with about $73 billion of that cost offset with spending cuts or new revenue.

Major healthcare groups, including the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, have shown strong support for the bill. This week, the AHA along with eight other hospital organizations sent a letter to senators urging them to pass H.R. 2.

After the Senate passed the bill, James L. Madara, MD, executive vice president and CEO of the AMA, released a statement applauding Congress for taking action. "On behalf of our patients, America's physicians thank the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for their bipartisan and bicameral successful work to build a stable and sustainable Medicare program that will secure high-quality, cost-effective healthcare," said Dr. Madara.

The Senate passed the legislation just in time to prevent a 21 percent cut to physicians' Medicare payments that was scheduled to take effect April 15.

Along with changing how Medicare pays physicians, the legislation also extends funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program for two more years.

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