Senate refuses to stop doctors' Medicare cuts

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted last week to shelve a bill that would have prevented cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Senators voted 47-53 to set the bill aside after critics said it would cost $247 billion over 10 years without a way to offset the expense.

The vote was seen as the first skirmish in a larger debate over overhauls in the nation's health care system.

The bill would have changed a 12-year-old Medicare reimbursement formula that reduces payments to doctors when those costs exceed budget targets.

By that measure, payments to doctors would have dropped 21 percent next year, and by smaller amounts in subsequent years.

Congress typically passes legislation each year to avert the cuts. Supporters said the latest measure would have provided a permanent "fix."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the fix was necessary because further reductions in pay rates would cause more doctors to not take on Medicare patients.

While other senators shared that concern, a number balked at implementing the fix without a way to pay for it.

Sixty votes were needed to move the bill forward into debate, so sponsors fell 13 short of what was needed.

Twelve Democrats and independent Joseph Lieberman joined 40 Republicans in rejecting the measure.

Reid voted for the Medicare payment bill. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against it.

Reid subsequently said he would propose a more limited bill to avert next year's payment cut to doctors.


The House voted to pursue a national strategy for solar energy research and technology.

Lawmakers voted 310-106 to establish a Solar Technology Roadmap Committee to advise the Department of Energy, and to authorize $2.25 billion over five years for research and development projects.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., said the undertaking will allow the United States to keep pace with other nations aggressively pursuing solar power.

"If our policies and innovation models for solar energy don't change, the United States is simply going to transition from importing foreign oil to importing foreign (solar) panels," she said.

Some lawmakers expressed reservations about the cost.

"This is not an insignificant amount, especially in our current financial climate," said Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas.

He suggested that offering solar companies tax credits, or easing burdensome regulations "would be a better way to encourage the development and use of solar energy."

Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the bill.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault or 202-783-1760.