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Bunning's Blockade Affects More People

March 2, 2010 - by Eric Naing

We’ve discussed how Sen. Jim Bunning’s [R, KY] filibuster of unemployment benefits has affected millions of dollars in construction projects and thousands of workers, but there’s another consequence of his obstruction: a 21 percent cut in Medicare dollars for doctors.

I’ve discussed the “doc fix” before but to recap, a budget formula has repeatedly and automatically cut Medicaid payments to doctors since 2003. Congress routinely votes to delay those cuts, but by not paying to permanently fix the formula instead, the recommended cut grows with each delay.

Congress last fall failed to pass a permanent Medicare fix (S.1776) and voted to delay the cut to March 1 instead (H.R.3326). Senate Democrats planned to pass another extension as part of the Senate jobs bill but that provision was axed to bring down the bill’s cost. As a last-ditch effort to delay the cut before the deadline, Democrats attached the Medicare delay to an emergency extension of unemployment benefits (H.R.4691). Enter Jim Bunning.

March 1 was yesterday so the Medicare cuts are technically in effect now but the government has intervened to buy Congress a little more time. Newsweek’s Mary Carmichael explains:

[T]he Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services… has stepped in. It’s refusing to process any of its biweekly payments to doctors over the next 10 days. That gives the Senate more time to act before the pay cut actually starts hitting doctors’ wallets. Maybe it’ll use these 10 days to repeal the cut and convince the House to do likewise, making a lot of doctors happy. More likely, it’ll just use this brief, artificial reprieve to buy itself even more time.

For what it’s worth, Bunning is now signalling that his filibuster could be coming to an end. But like with unemployment insurance, a short-term fix is still more likely to happen than a long-term one meaning this issue will continue to resurface

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