House leaders looking for deal to halt Medicare payment cuts

Aides to top House Republicans and Democrats are trying to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to permanently revamp a law that annually threatens cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, including a 21% reduction set to take effect April 1.

As part of the talks, bargainers are considering budget cuts that could offset part, but not all, of the measure's costs, according to lobbyists following the negotiations. The estimated 10-year price of repealing the annual Medicare cuts is roughly $175 billion.

The lobbyists said Wednesday that the package also might provide money for a children's health program that would otherwise run out of money Oct. 1. A four-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program would cost about $10 billion.

The lobbyists, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information gathered from congressional staff, said the talks are continuing and details could change. They say lawmakers might have to settle for a temporary bill, which they have done many times before. Congressional aides confirmed talks are underway but declined to provide detail.

"We are all aware" of the approaching deadline, said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Members and staff from both leadership and the committees are naturally discussing a range of options."

At issue is a formula, known as the sustainable growth rate, from a 1997 budget-cutting law that included curbs on doctor's reimbursements under Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly. The formula has repeatedly forced Congress to defuse cuts that over time have grown unrealistically high.

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