In a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation, the US House overwhelmingly passed a Medicare payment overhaul bill on Thursday. The bill also included a two-year extension to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), authorizing 5.6 billion dollars in funding for the program.
The measure overhauls the way doctors are reimbursed for their Medicare patients, eliminating the annual “doc fix” formula used to reimburse physicians. The “doc fix’ formula involves Congress calculating the sustainable growth rate and reimbursing doctors accordingly.
The “doc fix” has been in use since 1997, but it has been criticized by members of both parties as being a flawed way of paying doctors. Without Congressional action, doctors could face a 21 percent pay cut, for treating Medicare patients after March 31st.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 sailed through the House on a 392-37 vote, with Republican Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, working in rare cooperation to pass the bill through the House. 212 Republicans and 180 Democrats supported the bill, with 33 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting against the bill for various reasons.
Most of the Republican opponents of the bill objected to the 214 billion price tag over ten years. Some of the costs of the measure will be offset by raising premiums and prescription drug costs, for high-income Medicare recipients.
Some liberal groups also found fault with provisions of the bill. While the bill approves more funding for community health centers, that funding cannot be used to provide abortion services. In addition, the Republicans agreed to extend funding for CHIP for two years, instead of the four years Democrats had hoped for.
Nevertheless, nearly every Democrat in the House, including progressive leaders like Keith Ellison, Alan Grayson, John Lewis, Mark Takano and Jackie Speier, voted for the bill. With the Republican-controlled U.S. House usually being so dysfunctional that nothing positive can be accomplished, liberals and moderates seized upon the GOP’s willingness to compromise, by steering the significant piece of legislation through the chamber, against only muted opposition.
President Obama has already voiced his support for the bill, and he is likely to sign it into law should it pass the U.S. Senate and reach his desk. While the bill, like any compromise piece of legislation, is far from perfect, it does address a long overdue reform that was needed in calculating Medicare reimbursements, and it does provide needed funding for community health centers and children’s health. More importantly for the legislative process, it also demonstrated that at least for one surreal day, Washington wasn’t broken. The U.S. House was actually able to govern. For one day, anyway.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.