September 30. An amendment proposed by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to get rid of a 5% penalty for Medicare doctors who order treatments and tests for their patients that wind up in the 10% most expensive per patient over a year was defeated 13-10 in the Senate Finance Committee this evening, with all committee Republicans voting to end the penalty and all committee Democrats voting to keep it.
Before the vote, however, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), said, "We’d be well advised ... to drop the penalty. I want to commit to working with Senator Kyl to find [another] offset before we go to the floor." This was in line with Conrad’s remarks on September 29 when Senator Kyl first brought up the amendment and temporarily withdrew it in order try to work out an alternative way of paying for the elimination of the penalty, which is scored by the Congressional Budget Office as cutting Medicare payments by $1 billion over ten years. The senators and their staffs were unable to agree on such an alternative during the intervening 24 hours, but, as Senator Conrad’s remarks indicate, will continue to try to agree on one so as to be able to support a jointly acceptable amendment by the time the measure goes before the full Senate for a vote.
Of course, even if Senators Conrad and Kyl agree, that is no guarantee that an amendment they both support will in fact be adopted when offered on the Senate floor. "Those concerned with the grave danger that Medicare doctors will be induced to ration more and more each year by this ‘musical chair’ penalty need to redouble their efforts to convince their Senators in the short weeks before the Senate votes on health care restructuring," said Burke J. Balch, director of National Right to Life’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics.