Hours from deadline, bipartisan Medicare bill heads to White House

America's doctors can rest easy: Not only has Congress ensured they will be paid in full for the services they render to Medicare patients, it has ended the yearly ritual putting that in doubt.

The Senate voted 92-8 to approve a long-term "doc fix," as the legislation adjusting Medicare fees has long been known, less than three hours before federal officials would have reduced payments to health-care providers by 21 percent. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill, which also extends the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, a key Democratic priority.

Despite the last-minute nature of the vote, it was lauded by Hill leaders as a bipartisan triumph for both removing a yearly headache from the legislative calendar but also by implementing modest reforms to Medicare, including future incentives for doctors to deliver better care as well as premium hikes for the wealthiest Medicare recipients.

[Congress congratulates itself for the ‘doc fix’ deal, but can it happen again?]

“Instead of kicking this important Medicare payment issue down the road again, a strong bipartisan majority in Congress voted to finally solve the problem and ensure that seniors on Medicare don’t lose access to their doctors," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the vote was "a milestone for the Medicare program" for unraveling a "common-sense-defying" reimbursement system.

McConnell called Tuesday night's vote "another reminder of a new Republican Congress that’s back to work," but it could not have happened without support from top Democratic leaders. The deal was forged last month in the House, in a bargain struck by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to eliminate the yearly "doc fix" votes while implementing some cost-cutting reforms to Medicare and extending the children's insurance program.

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