The vote was far from unanimous – even though it’s only a temporary stop-gap measure that returned full Medicare payments to physicians. The Senate approved the $138 billion bill with a vote of 62 for, 36 against. What this means is that the 21% cut to Medicare payments is staved off until October 1, 2010. It should be noted that the SGR portion is a mere $7.3 billion of that, and that’s spread out over the next 10 years. The Medicaid, COBRA and Unemployment benefits will be extended until January 1, 2011, while additional financial aid for the states’ Medicaid programs get only a six month extension.

It seems odd that these deadlines would be staggered, though they all appear in the same bill. Perhaps this will allow the legislators to revisit each area more diligently as separate entities. But what is really needed is a comprehensive overall game plan. In light of that need, this move by the Senate is a patchy band-aid at best.

Those who voted against the extension object that the bill adds an additional $10 billion to the federal deficit each of the next 10 years, for a total of $100 billion. They’re also quick to stand up against it because it isn’t paid for. While there is a need for fiscal responsibility, one could easily argue that no budget plan is guaranteed, and that the country and the economy are more likely to prosper when certain needs are met.

This is just the Senate’s version of a solution. The House has also passed a bill. They could either rectify the differences between the two bills, or simply pass the Senate’s version as is. From there, it goes to the President, who is nearly certain to add his signature and make it Law… for a few months longer. SGR definitely needs to be replaced. These recurring short-term fixes beg the question; why doesn’t Congress just pass medium or long duration funding (to protect the continuity of healthcare benefits) and then change the SGR system with future legislation.

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