Obama says he's ready to sign bill revamping Medicare doc fees as Democratic criticism softens

Lifestyle and Budget Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he's ready to sign "good, bipartisan" legislation protecting physicians from steep cuts in Medicare reimbursements as Senate Democrats seemed to soften their opposition to the package.

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Obama's remark, made a day before the House is expected to approve the measure, seemed to add political momentum to the package's prospects in the Senate, where Minority Leader Harry Reid and others had complained about abortion curbs and other provisions. The overall bill is a compromise worked out by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare payment system. I've got my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill," the president said at a White House event marking the five-year anniversary of his signing his health care overhaul.

Earlier Wednesday, No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the Medicare bill's restrictions on abortions at community health centers were not as "severe" as abortion curbs in a separate bill on human trafficking Democrats are blocking.

A day earlier, Reid, D-Nev., also distinguished between the abortion language in the two bills.

Also Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Medicare measure would cost $214 billion over the coming decade.

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In a letter to Boehner, the budget office said $141 billion of those costs would come from increasing federal deficits. The rest would be paid for with added costs for Medicare beneficiaries, mostly higher premiums for the highest-earning recipients, and payment cuts to nursing homes and other providers.

Republicans have been saying some of the agreement's provisions would produce large savings beginning a decade from now, an argument that could help them win votes from conservatives unhappy about the idea of increasing federal deficits.

The budget office said it is hard to make such a projection. It said the measure could yield savings or added costs in the second decade after enactment, with the middle ground being small savings.