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Medicare payment bill passes House, goes to Obama

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The House approved a bipartisan bill Thursday that would prevent a 25% cut in doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates in 2011, sending it to President Obama for his signature.

The bill, which would cost $19.3 billion over 10 years, would be paid for by changing a provision of the health reform act that provides tax credits for people who buy coverage. The credit is scaled to a person's income. The legislation would increase the amount people would have to repay if they underestimate their earnings.

A 1997 law requires that doctors' Medicare rates be adjusted each year based on the health of the economy, with the goal of keeping the program in the black. Rate cuts have been blocked 10 times in the last eight years, including five times this year.

Doctors have been heavily lobbying lawmakers to prevent the scheduled cut from taking effect next year.

The American Medical Association had said that if the cut were enacted, some doctors would have had to stop accepting Medicare patients. Some 43 million people, mostly senior citizens, receive Medicare benefits.

"Stopping the steep 25% Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," said Dr. Cecil Wilson, the association's president. "Many physicians made clear that this year's roller coaster ride, caused by five delays of this year's cut, forced them to make difficult practice changes like limiting the number of Medicare patients they could treat."

The Senate approved the measure Wednesday. To top of page

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