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Senate Shoots Down Permanent Doc-Fix Bill

Citing budget concerns, the Senate on Wednesday killed a $245 billion proposal to scrap the controversial formula that dictates doctor payments under Medicare.

The vote count was 47 to 53 — 13 votes shy of the 60 needed to defeat a GOP filibuster.

Though many opponents support the underlying policy, the new spending wasn’t offset, leaving lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to blast the legislation as fiscally irresponsible.

“Americans are increasingly alarmed by the expansion of our national debt and this spending binge that we’re putting on the national credit card,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said prior to the vote.

At issue was the sustainable growth rate, a Medicare formula that’s called for physician payment cuts in almost every year of the last decade, threatening seniors’ access to care and leaving Congress to step in with temporary fixes — effectively kicking the can down the road. Sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the bill would have eliminated the formula once and for all, allowing Congress to establish a new method of updating doctor payments that better reflects the cost of treating Medicare patients.

“This is about strengthening and protecting Medicare,” Stabenow said just before the vote.

Wednesday’s vote means that Democrats will have to find another way to prevent a 21.5 percent pay cut from hitting Medicare doctors next year, likely with a temporary patch that will eliminate the cut but keep the formula in place. The Senate Finance Committee bill includes a one-year band-aid, at a cost of just under $11 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said before the vote that, if the measure failed, Democrats would push a multi-year solution at an unspecified later date.

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