WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democrats lost a key vote Wednesday on a controversial $247 billion measure designed to ensure that doctors experience no cut in Medicare reimbursement payments over the next 10 years.
The proposal was blocked in a 47-to-53 vote. Thirteen Democrats broke with their party's leadership to join a unanimous Republican opposition.
The measure, known as "doc fix," had been separated from broader proposals to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Under the bill proposed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Congress would have overriden a formula set more than a decade ago to prevent Medicare costs from rising faster than planned. The formula calls for cutting projected Medicare reimbursements to doctors.
Stabenow's bill would have reversed those cuts, just as Congress has done repeatedly since the formula was imposed in 1997.
Top Democrats have argued that attempts to address problems with the formula must remain separate from broader health care reform proposals.
Conservative critics have countered that legislation such as the Stabenow bill is intended to avoid adding the higher-than-planned Medicare costs to the comprehensive health care legislation. Democrats have pledged not to add to the federal deficit through health care reform.
Republicans slammed the Stabenow bill as a fiscally reckless attempt by health care reform advocates to win the support of groups such as the influential American Medical Association at taxpayer expense.
"It's incredibly troubling that, on one hand, we have members of Congress arguing that we need to have health care reform in order to get control of the fiscal challenges we face. Yet, on the other hand, (they are trying to pass) legislation that undermines past efforts to control health care costs and would in fact make the deficit situation far worse," Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said Tuesday.
The AMA issued a statement Wednesday expressing its disappointment with the vote.
"As we work to improve the health system, permanent repeal of the payment formula is essential to ensuring the security and stability of Medicare," said Dr. J. James Rohack, president the AMA.
"The formula is broken and needs to be repealed. Congress created the Medicare physician payment system, and Congress needs to fix this problem once and for all to fulfill its obligation to seniors, baby boomers and military families."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that once the health care overhaul bill is off the floor, he will try again to pass a multi-year "doc fix."
In the meantime, the Senate health care bill will include a one-year fix, assuring doctors they won't face a dramatic 21 percent rate cut scheduled for 2010.
Reid said he was "stunned" when GOP support for the Stabenow bill dissolved. At one point, he said, he was told 27 Republicans were in favor of the bill.
He blamed what he called GOP obstructionism for the defeat.
–CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.