Senate Approves Sweeping Changes to Medicare

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes in the way Medicare pays doctors, clearing the bill for President Obama and resolving an issue that has bedeviled Congress and the Medicare program for more than a decade.

The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by a vote of 392 to 37, was a major success for Republicans, who devised a solution to a complex policy problem that had frustrated lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it “could help slow health care cost growth.”

The bill, drafted in the House in negotiations between Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, through 2017.

Without action by Congress, doctors would have faced a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on Wednesday or Thursday. Senate leaders cleared the way for final passage by allowing votes on several amendments sought by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Medicare spent $70 billion last year under the fee schedule used to pay doctors and some other health care professionals. That accounts for about 12 percent of all Medicare spending. Ninety-eight percent of people enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program receive at least one physician service during the year.

The legislation moves Medicare in a direction espoused by Mr. Obama and many health policy experts, toward payment based on the quality and value of care, rather than just the volume of services. Organized medicine now accepts that change in principle, and the American Medical Association lobbied strongly for the bill, demanding that Congress “fix Medicare now.”

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary