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Senate Democrats Resist Emerging 'Doc Fix' Deal

By Melissa Attias, CQ Roll Call

March 19, 2015 -- Senate Democrats are resisting the emerging House-negotiated deal to permanently replace Medicare's physician payment formula less than two weeks before a patch averting cuts to doctors is set to expire.

Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, was not among the cosponsors of a bill unveiled last week detailing the policy parameters to replace the sustainable growth rate formula, or SGR. The measure (HR 1470) does not contain other policies and offsets expected to be included in the deal to move the package through Congress.

Asked about his unwillingness to sign on, Wyden said that there are "major health policy issues involved here, and we're just not there yet."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid thinks the SGR agreement "stinks," a source familiar with the Nevada Democrat's view of the measure told CQ Roll Call. Reid is of the belief that House Democrats have significant leverage against Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republicans when it comes to resolving the "doc fix."

One major point of contention is that the deal is only expected to include two years of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers children from low-income families that aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Democrats want four more years of funding for CHIP, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

"We're staying together. We insist on the four. It's important to us and the House knows we are insisting on it. They need 60 votes to get all of this," said Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, the sponsor of a Senate bill to extend the program for four years.

He noted that he wants to see a deal on SGR but asked, "How do you give doctors a fix permanently and then only do two years for kids?"

Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey took a softer line, saying, "I want to take a look at it and see what the details are but my very strong preference is four years."

"We should take advantage of an opportunity to get four years in place," he added.

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