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Congress approves bill to avert Medicare pay cut for doctors

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval on Monday to legislation to avert a pay cut for doctors who participate in the Medicare insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

By a vote of 64-35, the Democratic-led Senate sent the measure, approved last week by the Republican-led House of Representatives, to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The bill would give doctors a one-year reprieve from a 24 percent cut set to kick in this week under the Medicare payment formula, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR.

It marked the 17th time Congress had agreed to a temporary "doc fix" rather than agreeing to a permanent bipartisan replacement of the 1997 funding formula.

The payments affect doctors treating patients under Medicare, which pays for healthcare for nearly 51 million people in the United States who are 65 and older or disabled.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers approved the "doc fix," knowing that failure to do so would risk prompting doctors to drop out of the program, leaving patients without care.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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