WASHINGTON - A budding bipartisan deal to shelter physicians from Medicare cuts, championed by the House's two top leaders, is drawing powerful allies including the American Medical Association and a rainbow of conservative and liberal groups.
House aides released an outline of the emerging measure late Friday, and it confirmed what lawmakers, aides and lobbyists have described for days. The package is studded with provisions that draw many Democrats, including two more years of money for the Children's Health Insurance Program and community health centers, plus language boosting Medicare costs for some beneficiaries that appeals to Republicans eager to retool the costly program's finances.
The effort to resolve a problem that has exasperated Congress for years has been pressed by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio), and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). Their rare alliance has given the proposed deal momentum among lawmakers of both parties eager to be rid of the issue.
The proposal is also attracting powerful foes and its fate is not guaranteed. A House vote seems likely late next week, shortly before Congress begins a two-week spring recess, but what will happen in the Senate is less clear.
Citing the plan's increased Medicare premiums for high earners and other increased costs for beneficiaries, AARP - the senior citizens' lobby - said the package "is not a balanced deal for older Americans." With most of the measure financed with deeper federal deficits, the conservative Club for Growth urged lawmakers to vote "no" because it "falls woefully short" of being paid for.
Some House liberals and Senate Democrats have criticized the measure for not extending the children's health program for four years, raising Medicare premiums and restricting abortions at community health centers.
The measure got a boost Friday from the liberal Families USA, which cited the importance of financing the children's health program and providing for the 8 million children it serves.
Also voicing support was Robert Wah, president of the American Medical Association, who said it was time for Congress "to seize the moment and finally put in place reforms" that would end the constant threatened cuts and strengthen Medicare.
At its core, the plan would block a 21 percent cut in doctors' Medicare fees looming April 1. It would replace a 1997 law that has threatened similar reductions for years - which Congress has repeatedly blocked - with a new formula aimed at prodding doctors to charge Medicare patients for the quality, not quantity, of care.
In a first hint of some of the measure's fine print, Friday's summary said it would let the government withhold 100 percent of any delinquent taxes providers owe from their Medicare reimbursements.
The one-page document provides no price tags and few specifics. But as lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbyists have said for days, it would cost roughly $210 billion over a decade, with around $140 billion financed by adding to federal deficits, aides said Friday. The remaining $70 billion would be split evenly between Medicare providers and beneficiaries.