Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is already infamous for blocking a temporary extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits for out of work Americans. But included in that package is legislation to prevent a mandatory pay cut for doctors–and by standing in its way, he’s triggered a 21 percent fee reduction to doctors seeing Medicare patients starting today.
Republicans say they support a temporary measure to avoid the cuts, but they have been unable to rein in Bunning, and, as such, the Senate has failed to act on a House bill that staves them off.The American Medical Association warned of this last week: “A Medicare meltdown now seems certain, as the U.S. Senate has left early for the weekend, abandoning seniors, military families and baby boomers,” reads an AMA statement from Friday. “The Senate failed to repeal the Medicare physician payment formula that will cause a drastic 21 percent payment cut to physicians who care for Medicare and TRICARE patients. On Monday, the 21 percent cut goes into effect, forcing many physicians to limit the number of Medicare and TRICARE patients they see in order to keep their practice doors open.”
On a conference call with reporters this afternoon Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) put it this way: “By his actions, Bunning has prevented people from receiving Unemployment, health care access, transportation projects from going forward, and Doctors who provide Medicare services from getting paid.”
Today, for the seventh time, Bunning objected to a request for unanimous consent to temporarily extend benefits. In addition to cutting doctor’s fees, his exploitation of the Senate’s filibuster rules has cost thousands of out-of-work Americans their benefits and has even put thousands of federal employees out of work.
Democrats hope to resolve the issues in a longer-term way by passing jobs bill (which includes benefits extensions and a so-called “doc-fix” for Medicare reimbursement rates) next week. In the mean time they’re bracing for Bunning and the GOP to take as many steps as possible to delay legislative progress.
Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to force an end to debate on the confirmation of Barbara Keenan to the fourth circuit court of appeals. Keenan’s nomination is so non-controversial, that she was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. But hat one procedural delay will eat up over two days of floor time.
It’s unclear at this point whether the lost benefits and reimbursements can be retroactively restored.