House Republicans escalated a new round of brinkmanship with passage of a bill Friday that delays Obamacare’s individual mandate in order to avoid steep Medicare cuts set to take effect at the end of the month.
The legislation — which delays the mandate by five years in order to avoid a 24 percent cut to Medicare physician payment rates on April 1 — passed by a mostly party-line vote of 237-182.
“It breaks the cycle of absurdity for doctors and their patients,” said House Ways & Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI). “We must not let this opportunity pass by.”
The White House has threatened to veto the bill, and Senate Democrats fiercely object to it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the legislation has “no credibility” and accused Republicans of hijacking a must-pass bill to dismantle Obamacare.
“The Republican leadership once again chooses politics over substance and what’s good for the American people,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), a senior health care voice within the Democratic caucus. “The pay-for is a poison pill.”
There is virtually unanimous agreement in Congress that the physician pay cuts should be avoided, but replacing the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula (which calculates physician payment rates) costs a whopping $138 billion. Many expect Congress to pass another short-term patch to delay the cuts, which it has done more than a dozen times.
The GOP legislation has sparked ire among health industry groups. Insurers oppose it because they support the individual mandate. Even the top physicians group, the American Medical Association, lamented the partisan direction that the debate had taken and cautioned that the flawed SGR formula won’t be repealed without bipartisan support.