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Obama ready to sign bipartisan fix for Medicare doctor payments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he was ready to sign bipartisan legislation to change the formula for reimbursing Medicare physicians, signaling support for a bipartisan effort by U.S. House of Representatives leaders.

“Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system. I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill,” Obama, a Democrat, said at the White House, adding that this would be “really exciting.”

The House is expected to vote on Thursday on a proposal negotiated by Republican Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The proposal would replace the current Medicare doctor payment formula with one that has a stronger focus on quality of care, sparing doctors a 21-percent pay cut they would otherwise face on April 1 under the existing payment formula.

The legislation includes some Medicare reforms sought by Republicans and a two-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for low-income children, sought by Democrats. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the measure a “reasonable compromise.”

“And that’s why the president is supportive of this process in the House. He believes it should get careful consideration in the Senate,” Earnest told reporters at the White House.

While the bill is expected to pass the House, its fate is less clear in the Senate. Some Senate Democrats have expressed concern about anti-abortion language and their desire for four years, not two, of CHIP funding.

The proposal would add $141 billion to the U.S. deficit over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday. The overall cost is about $214 billion, but about $73 billion would be offset through savings in the bill, CBO said.

The largest savings would result from means testing Medicare beneficiaries so people with higher incomes pay more, which would yield about $34.5 billion, CBO said.

The current formula links doctors’ pay increases to economic growth, but has been overridden temporarily by Congress 17 times in the last dozen years because it repeatedly threatened deep cuts in doctors’ pay.

In a statement, Speaker Boehner’s office noted that the CBO analysis showed the legislation would save taxpayers money compared to the way Congress had often handled the doctor’s payments in recent years, by freezing them.

“CBO estimates that enacting the legislation would cost $0.9 billion less over the 2015-2025 period than freezing payment rates for physicians’ services,” CBO said in a letter to Boehner. (Additional reporting by Julia Edwards)

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