The Senate passed a bill with a price tag of $141 billion to reform Medicare payments to physicians, rejecting a series of amendments, including one that would make the bill budget-neutral.
The bill, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, passed the Senate overwhelmingly on a vote of 92-8, a coup for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. It was just hours before the midnight deadline on Apr. 15, when a temporary fix to up doctors’ payments for Medicare patients would have run out.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee had introduced a potential amendment to the bill that would have subjected the bill to spending rules known as pay-as-you-go, which would have required the cost of the bill to be fully offset by spending cuts or tax increases. Lee’s amendment, which required 51 votes to pass, fell short at 42-58.
While both sides of the aisle agreed that the Sustainable Growth Rate — a schedule that steadily decreases payments to physicians for Medicare patients, which Congress annually prevents in a ‘doc fix’ bill — needed to be reformed, the GOP has been split on whether it should require the cost increases in the law to be entirely offset instead of increasing the budget deficit.
The Congressional Budget Office has pegged the cost of the measure at $141 billion, while the federal government’s top Medicare expert, the Medicare actuary, has warned that the bill’s fixes won’t be permanent. (RELATED: Medicare Actuary: Doc Fix Bill Won’t Fix It For Long)
In order to pass the reform, the Senate waived the pay-as-you-go requirements that the legislation be budget-neutral, 71-29.
The Senate spent the night voting on a series of amendments to the bill from both sides of the aisle.
Of the failed amendments, an effort from GOP Sen. John Cornyn, which would have repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate in order to pay for the legislation, garnered significant support. Cornyn’s amendment failed 54-45, needing 60 votes to pass.
The chamber also turned down proposals from Democratic Sen. Patty Murray to remove abortion restrictions on community health centers, 43-57, and an amendment that would have extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to four years in the bill, up from two years, 50-50.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
“This reform bill is a big deal. For the first time in nearly two decades — and without raising taxes — Congress has come together in a bipartisan way to pass meaningful entitlement reform,” Boehner said in a statement. “And while much more must be done to rein in unsustainable entitlement spending, this agreement represents an important step in the right direction.”