Congress OKs Bipartisan Bill Changing Doctors’ Medicare

Legislation permanently overhauling how Medicare pays physicians won approval Tuesday from an atypically united Congress as lawmakers banded together to erase an irritant that has dogged them for years.

Adding urgency to legislators’ work, the measure headed off a 21 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare fees that would have hit home Wednesday, when the government planned to begin processing physicians’ claims reflecting that reduction. The bill also provides billions of extra dollars for health care programs for children and low-income families, including additional money for community health centers.

Working into the evening, the Senate approved the measure 92-8 less than three weeks after the House passed it by a lopsided 392-37. With Republicans controlling the Senate since January, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been eager to demonstrate his party’s ability to conduct Congress’ business efficiently.

Conservatives were unhappy that two-thirds of the bill’s $214 billion, 10-year costs were financed by simply making federal deficits even bigger, while liberals wanted added money for children and women’s programs. But McConnell defended the measure.

“It’s another reminder of a new Republican Congress that’s back to work,” he said after the vote. “And while no bill will ever be perfect, this legislation is a sensible compromise with wide bipartisan support.”