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Lawmakers find way to avoid Medicare cut
Committee gives 0.5 percent raise until June

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers have crafted a six-month reprieve for physicians facing a 10 percent rate cut when treating Medicare patients, congressional aides and advocacy groups said Tuesday.

The pay cut for doctors had been scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

The legislation crafted by Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee would give doctors a 0.5 percent raise when they treat the elderly and disabled. But that raise would expire June 30, forcing lawmakers to regroup this spring and try to come up with a way to pay for a more permanent solution.

The Senate was expected to approve the bill Tuesday or Wednesday. The legislation would then move to the House, which hopes to wrap up work this week.

A summary of the proposal's key provisions was given to The Associated Press by congressional staffers and advocacy groups.

The legislation also would extend funding for a popular children's health insurance program through March 2009. Large majorities in both chambers supported a $35 billion increase in spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Bush twice vetoed expansions of the program; supporters were unable to muster enough support in the House to overcome the first veto. Supporters will try to override the second veto when they return in January.

The AARP described the short-term fix for doctors as woefully inadequate.

'Enactment of this legislation does little to protect millions of Medicare beneficiaries from higher monthly premiums and only temporarily averts the problems beneficiaries would face finding a physician if payment cuts take place,' said David Sloane, AARP's director of government relations.

The AARP supported cutting rates for private insurers who provide health coverage through a program called Medicare Advantage. While most Democrats agreed with that approach, the Bush administration and many Republican lawmakers disagreed. Under the compromise, lawmakers would trim $1.5 billion from a fund that would provide extra payments to certain insurers that entered previously unserved regions. But that's a far cry from the $50 billion cut that House Democrats passed earlier this year.