With Senate vote, Congress sends Obama bill to stop cut to Medicare docs

The Associated Press

FILE - This Oct. 14, 2009 file photo shows Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. Congress is poised to give doctors who treat Medicare patients an 11th hour reprieve from a cut in their government fees. Monday’s Senate vote would send legislation to repair Medicare’s flawed payment formula for a year to President Barack Obama for his signature. It comes just hours before a midnight deadline Wyden promises to keep pressing ahead with a long-term solution, proposing to use savings from the troop drawdown in Afghanistan to pay the cost. Republicans and most budget experts say such savings are phony and are demanding at least some of the money to come from cuts to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

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Other savings come from curbs on payments to hospitals that care for a large share of indigent patients. But those hospitals first get a one-year reprieve from cuts scheduled in 2016.

The measure would give Medicare doctors a 0.5 percent fee increase through the end of the year. It also creates two new mental health grant programs, including $1.1 billion over four years for improvements to community health centers and $60 million over four years for outpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness.

The measure solves the fee schedule problem through next March.

Because of a flawed formula dating to 1997, Medicare doctors are threatened with big fee cuts almost every year. After allowing a 4.8 percent Medicare fee cut to take effect in 2002, Congress has since stepped in 16 times to prevent the cuts.

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