Obama and GOP bicker over doctors’ Medicare pay

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is asking Republican lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in new spending to avert a scheduled 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

If GOP senators don’t allow the stalled proposal to pass, some doctors will stop treating Medicare recipients, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.

Obama also urged congressional leaders Saturday to approve his proposals to pump more federal money into states where thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public officials face likely layoffs. In a letter, Obama described his plans as “critical and timely ways to further the economic recovery and spur job creation.”

Many GOP lawmakers, and some Democrats, have balked at further stimulus spending, fearing the deficit is getting out of hand.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said his party wants to avoid reducing physicians’ Medicare fees, but do it without adding to the deficit — meaning spending cuts elsewhere.

The president noted that since 2003, Congresses led by Democrats and by Republicans alike have blocked similar proposed cuts in doctors’ reimbursement rates. But now, he said, Republicans are “willing to walk away from the needs of our doctors and our seniors.”

The “doc fix” is part of a large, Democratic-drafted bill that would extend several popular tax breaks while greatly increasing the tax that oil companies pay into a spill liability fund. Republican senators have focused their objections on the bill’s tax increases, not the doctors’ pay matter.

“Even in the face of public outrage, Democrats are showing either that they just don’t get it on this issue of the debt, or that they just don’t care,” McConnell said.

For years, lawmakers from both parties have said they would trim Medicare reimbursement rates as a way to save money and make their budget plans appear more frugal. Later, in a move that watchdog groups call cynical, the lawmakers routinely set aside the proposed cuts in doctor payments, which are considered politically unpalatable.

Obama acknowledged that a better plan is needed.

“I realize that simply kicking these cuts down the road another year is not a long-term solution,” he said. “I am committed to permanently reforming this Medicare formula in a way that balances fiscal responsibility with the responsibility we have to doctors and seniors.”

The president said he is “absolutely willing to take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path. But I’m not willing to do that by punishing hardworking physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare. That’s just wrong. And that’s why in the short-term, Congress must act to prevent this pay cut to doctors.”

In the GOP weekly radio address, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio called on Obama to rein in government spending and accused the president of “refusing to make the tough choices” when it comes to budget cuts. While Boehner did not mention the dispute over Medicare doctor payments, he renewed his attack on the new health care law, saying its “burdensome mandates and tax increases” are stalling economic recovery.



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