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Yellowhammer - Medicare 'doc fix' spiits Alabama Congressional Delegation

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Location: Washington, DC

By Elizabeth Beshears

A Medicare "doc fix" bill passed by the U.S. House Thursday drew wide bipartisan support, but failed to receive the votes of two of Alabama's Congressional delegates.

Congressmen Mo Brooks (R-AL5) and Gary Palmer (R-AL6) were two of only 37 House members who voted against the measure, which the CBO estimates would add nearly $200 billion to the debt over the next decade.

President Obama praised the bill in his speech in Birmingham Thursday afternoon, calling it how Congress is "supposed to work."

So what exactly is a "doc fix?" In 1997 Congress decided to reign in the growth of Medicare costs by passing a measure called the "Sustainable Growth Rate" in the Balanced Budget Act that required payments to physicians from Medicare to grow no faster than the rate of the economy. Congress has overridden these growth checks 17 times since they were instituted, but has offset the costs approximately 98% of the time. The fix passed Thursday offsets less than half of the costs with cuts elsewhere.

In addition to increasing payments to doctors, the bill introduces means testing for higher-income recipients.

Congressman Brooks told Yellowhammer Friday morning that the bill didn't do enough to ensure the Medicare system remained solvent, and the only parts of the bill that were offsetting costs came by "forcing Americans who have been successful and have worked hard throughout their lives to pay even more for their Medicare coverage."

"What we should have done," Rep. Brooks said, "was slowly but surely made the age at which people can receive Medicare to whatever level is necessary to offset these Medicare costs so that Medicare will be solvent."

"I have a medical advisory committee that consists of physicians in the Tennessee Valley, and I asked my medical advisory committee to examine this legislation and recommend to me how I should vote. A majority of these doctors disagreed with this bill, and asked me to vote against it," said Brooks.

"The fact that both Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama were strongly for this financially irresponsible bill ought to have sent up a red flag of warning to more Congressmen," Brooks concluded.

When Yellowhammer asked Rep. Palmer's office why the Congressman had voted against the measure, a spokesman simply responded, "Because it wasn't paid for."

The bill has been derided by some conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation's political arm Heritage Action, for its contribution to the debt and failure to address many of the the fundamental problems within Medicare. Heritage Action key voted the bill for inclusion on their congressional scorecard.

The other five members of Alabama's congressional delegation all voted for the bill. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) said the fix was "a solution that is both lasting and healthy for our country over the long term. This plan makes sure seniors who rely on Medicare aren't denied access to doctors."

"I hope today's victory is an indicator that House Democrats and Republicans can work together to tackle other issues of critical importance for all Americans," Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL7) said in a release Thursday.

The Senate plans to take up the bill when it returns from its two-week recess, and has indicated that it will move for the measure to be passed quickly.


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