| WASHINGTON, March 14
WASHINGTON, March 14 The Republican-run U.S.
House of Representatives on Friday approved a bipartisan deal to
spare doctors from looming Medicare pay cuts, but included a
provision to undermine Obamacare that critics said made the bill
a non-starter in the Democratic-run Senate.
The vote was 238-181, with most Democrats refusing to
swallow the Obamacare "poison pill" Republicans included to
delay for five years the tax penalty that Americans must pay
under President Barack Obama's healthcare law if they decline to
sign up for insurance.
Just a dozen Democrats, some of whom face tough re-election
races in November, voted with Republicans to pass the bill,
which the White House has threatened to veto.
Hundreds of thousands of doctors who participate in
traditional Medicare face a 24 percent pay cut on April 1, a
situation dating to a 1990s initiative to restrain federal
spending on the government healthcare program, which today
serves nearly 50 million elderly and disabled people.
Doctors hoped to see a permanent fix to the recurring
Medicare payments problem this year after Republicans and
Democrats in both chambers of Congress agreed in February on a
policy to replace the payment formula, known as the sustainable
growth rate or SGR.
But there was no agreement on how to fund the $138 billion
cost of the "doc fix" over the next decade. So House Republicans
proposed to pay it by delaying the penalty for the individual
mandate to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also
known as Obamacare.
Democrats charged this was part of a Republican
election-year attack strategy on the 2010 law, noting it was the
fifty-first vote in the House to repeal or undermine Obamacare.
They also expressed consternation that Republicans would
attach their latest Obamacare attack to a bipartisan compromise
to fix Medicare payments that had eluded lawmakers for years.
"For what reason have you poisoned his process?" demanded
Democratic Representative Frank Pallone. "You have
singled-handedly, in my belief, stomped on months and months of
hard work and effort by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle
and our staffs."
Republicans acknowledged the combined measure may not have a
bright Senate future, but said they had to fund the "doc fix" to
get it through the House. They said Senate Democrats should
propose their own way to pay for the Medicare changes and then
negotiate with the House.
The bill the House approved on Friday "is not the
destination. It is the key that gets you through the door to
that destination," of fixing the Medicare payments system, said
Republican Representative Michael Burgess.
But the House Republican approach brought an unusual public
rebuke on Thursday from the American Medical Association, one of
the most powerful lobby groups, representing 225,000 physicians
who hope for a permanent "doc fix" this year. The group wrote to
Congress to express "profound disappointment".
Republicans put Democrats on the spot with the vote, knowing
that most backed the Medicare payments reform and some favored
at least a short delay in the Obamacare individual mandate.
Earlier this week, the House approved some other exceptions
to the Obamacare individual mandate affecting firefighters and
veterans, and broadened a religious exemption. Last week,
twenty-seven House Democrats voted to delay the individual
mandate penalty for one year.
But on Friday, one of those Democrats, Representative Carol
Shea-Porter, said she couldn't support a five-year delay because
it would seriously undermine Obama's healthcare law.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Stephen Powell)