House Approves Bill to Stop Cut to Medicare Docs

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Legislation to give doctors a yearlong reprieve from a looming 24 percent cut in their payments from Medicare overcame turbulence in the House on Thursday and appears on track to clear the Senate next week, possibly just hours before a Monday midnight deadline.

The bill passed the House Thursday on a surprise voice vote after an hour-long delay signaled GOP leaders were having difficulty mustering the two-thirds vote to pass the bill under fast-track procedures. Prominent Democrats withheld support, as did a host of rank-and-file Republicans, which caused leaders in both parties to call off a roll call vote and ease the measure through with a wink and a nod.

The vote was engineered by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with cooperation from top Democrats, particularly Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

It came after several leading Democrats weighed in against the bill, which would “patch” the Medicare fee system for 12 months. They complained that the temporary measure would set back efforts to find a permanent fix for the program’s flawed Medicare payment formula, which has bedeviled lawmakers for more than a decade. There is widespread support for legislation to permanently solve the problem, but no agreement on how to pay for it.

Pelosi, however, swung behind the legislation, which also had strong support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, President Barack Obama’s most powerful ally on Capitol Hill.

“The simple fact is that the clock is ticking, and on March 31st, it’s bad news for seniors and for the doctors who treat them in the Medicare program,” Pelosi said.