WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) - Republicans filed a new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives late on Tuesday to avert a pay cut for doctors who participate in the Medicare health program for the elderly and disabled.
Backers are hopeful that the Republican-led House will approve the measure as early as Thursday, and then send it to the Democratic-led Senate for final congressional approval.
Republicans offered the bill two weeks after the House, on a largely party-line vote, passed an earlier version that would have delayed for five years the tax penalty most Americans must pay if they decline to sign up for President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare program.
Just a dozen Democrats voted with Republicans to approve the bill, which appeared to have no chance of winning Senate passage, and the White House threatened to veto if it did.
Hundreds of thousands of doctors who participate in Medicare face a 24 percent pay cut on April 1. The new bill would spare doctors from a pay cut through next March.
The possible reduction dates back to a 1990s initiative to restrain federal spending on Medicare, which now serves nearly 50 million elderly and disabled people.
Doctors had hoped to get a permanent fix to the recurring Medicare problem after Republicans and Democrats agreed in February to replace the payment formula, known as the sustainable growth rate, or SGR.
But there has been no bipartisan deal on how to do it. (Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Ken Wills)