Medicare cuts no longer attached to debt ceiling bill

Looks like House Republicans will vote on a measure tonight to raise the debt ceiling without any strings--including further Medicare cuts--attached.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), facing a rebellion over his latest proposal to extend Medicare sequestration for one year to 2024 as part of a bill to raise the government's borrowing authority, said today he would give up the plan and bring the issue to a vote, according to the New York Times.

The House was scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday but moved the vote to tonight due to an approaching snowstorm, the article said.

Boehner on Monday announced a proposal to cut Medicare funding to pay for the extension of the debt limit until March 15, 2015. The move was vehemently opposed by a coalition of nine hospital groups, led by the American Hospital Association, in a letter addressed to House Republicans.

"While we do not oppose the extension of the debt limit, we do oppose using Medicare reductions to pay for non-Medicare related spending," wrote the coalition, which includes the AHA, America's Essential Hospitals, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Children's Hospitals Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, Premier Healthcare Alliance and VHA Inc.

"Medicare is meant to assure seniors access to needed medical care, not serve as a piggybank for other programs," the letter said.

Hospitals have suffered $113 billion in reimbursement cuts over the past three years.

The hospital trade groups wrote a similar letter last month when Congress considered a proposal to offset an extension of unemployment benefits with Medicare provider cuts.

Boehner's last-minute reversal means he will bring a "clean" debt ceiling bill to a floor vote without linking it to various Republican policy proposals, according to the Times. He told the publication he expects all House Democrats to vote in favor of the bill, but that means he needs an additional 18 Republican votes to pass the legislation.

Lawmakers have until Feb. 27 to act to lift the debt limit.

To learn more:
- here's the New York Times article
- read the coalition's letter (.pdf)
- check out Boehner's original proposal (.pdf)

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