CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama called on Republican lawmakers Saturday to approve billions of dollars in new spending to avert a scheduled 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
If Republican senators don't allow the stalled proposal to pass, some doctors will stop treating Medicare recipients, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
He noted that since 2003, Congresses led by Democrats and by Republicans alike have blocked similar proposed cuts in doctors' reimbursement rates. But now, he said, Republicans are "willing to walk away from the needs of our doctors and our seniors."
The so-called doc fix is part of a large, Democratic-drafted bill that would extend several popular tax breaks while greatly increasing the tax that oil companies pay into a spill liability fund. Republican senators have focused their objections on the bill's tax increases, not the doctors' pay matter.
For years, lawmakers from both parties routinely have said that would trim Medicare reimbursement rates as a way to save money and make their budget plans appear more frugal. Later, in a move that watchdog groups call cynical, the lawmakers routinely undo the proposed cuts in doctor payments, which are considered politically unpalatable.
Obama acknowledged that a better plan is needed.
"I realize that simply kicking these cuts down the road another year is not a long-term solution," he said. "I am committed to permanently reforming this Medicare formula in a way that balances fiscal responsibility with the responsibility we have to doctors and seniors."
The president said he is "absolutely willing to take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path. But I'm not willing to do that by punishing hardworking physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare. That's just wrong. And that's why in the short-term, Congress must act to prevent this pay cut to doctors."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Republicans want to avoid a cut in doctors' fees without adding to the deficit. Such a plan would require spending cuts elsewhere.
In the GOP weekly radio address, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio called on Obama to rein in government spending and accused the president of "refusing to make the tough choices" when it comes to budget cuts. While Boehner did not mention the dispute over Medicare doctor payments, he renewed his attack on the new health care law, saying its "burdensome mandates and tax increases" are stalling economic recovery.