| WASHINGTON, March 13
WASHINGTON, March 13 U.S. doctors' biggest lobby
group said on Thursday legislation intended to avoid a major
Medicare pay cut for doctors had become a victim of partisan
politics after Republicans tied it to their efforts to undermine
The American Medical Association, the biggest lobby group
for U.S. doctors, called on lawmakers in the Senate and House of
Representatives to resume the bipartisanship that early this
year produced legislation for a permanent "doc fix" that would
avoid once and for all a cut in traditional Medicare payments
enshrined in a 1997 budget law.
The bipartisan deal quickly became mired in disagreements
about how to come up with $138 billion to pay for the change.
House Republicans are poised for a Friday vote on a bill
that would find the money by delaying the individual mandate
penalty in President Barack Obama's healthcare law for five
years, an action opposed by the White House and its Democratic
allies in Congress.
The bill advanced on Thursday on a procedural vote, largely
along party lines.
The AMA, which represents nearly 225,000 doctors and is one
of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, made public its
frustrations after weeks of intensive behind-the-scenes efforts
to forge bipartisan agreement on funding for the legislation.
The House bill has escalated concerns that lawmakers will be
unable to find common ground before April 1, when doctors face a
24 percent Medicare pay cut under a mechanism known as the
sustainable growth rate, or SGR.
"I am writing to profess our profound disappointment that a
strong bipartisan, bicameral effort to repeal the Medicare
sustainable growth rate has become a victim of partisan
approaches to resolve budgetary issues," Dr. James Madara, AMA's
chief executive officer, said on Thursday in a letter to House
Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
"We renew our call for all parties to engage in good faith,
bipartisan efforts to address the budgetary implications of this
bill and enact it. We stand ready to work with you in this
AMA, which has led more than 600 other physician groups in a
lobbying effort to secure a permanent doc fix, also expressed
concern about a Senate Republican measure that would fund the
replacement of the SGR by repealing the individual mandate.
Other physician organizations agreed. "It's a sad state of
affairs," said Dr. Thomas Barber, a lobbyist with the American
Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, which represents 16,000
"To see something that was supported by both parties get
Shanghaied into the partisan politics of the day is very
frustrating," he said.
Some doctors fear the recent mood of partisanship could
limit lawmakers to a temporary fix lasting up to several months,
which could postpone progress on a permanent solution into the
next Congress, which takes office in January 2015.
The AMA says there have been 16 temporary SGR patches so
far, costing taxpayers $154 billion. Securing an agreement on
the doc fix is one of the association's highest priorities.
Republicans defended their latest assault on Obamacare as
necessary in order to fund changes to the payments system for
Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly. Delaying
the penalty for the individual mandate will save money, they
said, because there will be fewer health insurance signups and
so fewer taxpayer subsidies to enrollees.
"My friends on the other side of the aisle may disagree with
having to pay for new spending, but this is an important reform
that Republicans put in place when we reclaimed the majority in
the 2010 elections," said Representative Michael Burgess, a
leading Republican of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Democrats complained that the Republicans had used a rare
manuever to drop the Obamacare language into the Medicare bill.
"I'm a strong supporter of providing adequate compensation
to our physicians," said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. "Why
are we playing with them when in essence we know this is not
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)