It's time once again for one of Congress's most mind-numbing rituals: a "doc fix."
Doctors will see a cut of more than 20 percent in their Medicare payments unless Congress steps in by the end of the month. Congress almost surely will step in—it always does. And it will probably just delay the cut for another few months—as it always does.
At the moment, most signs are pointing to yet another temporary patch in doctors' pay, which would be offset with cuts to hospitals and an extension of certain cuts from sequestration. The precise length of the patch hasn't been determined, but health care lobbyists say three months or six months appear to be the leading options under discussion.
It would be the 18th time in 13 years that Congress has temporarily blocked the payment cuts, which it mandated in 1997.
There's bipartisan agreement on the need for a permanent solution, and on the substance of that solution: Identical bills in both chambers would end the parade of temporary patches and replace Medicare's payment system. But there's no consensus on how to pay for it, leading to the constant short-term extensions.
A lobbyist following the issue, who declined to speak on the record because conversations are still preliminary, said negotiators in the House are trying to put together a package that would pair the permanent doc fix with a handful of health care priorities from each party—perhaps balancing certain GOP-backed entitlement cuts with concessions to Democrats on reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program.