Ways, Means Health Subcommittee Agenda Includes SCHIP Expansion
House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) on Monday at a press briefing said his panel's first priorities for the next congressional session will be passing measures vetoed or halted by President Bush, such as SCHIP, and "rebasing" the Medicare physician payment system to eliminate the need for annual fixes, CQ HealthBeat reports. "SCHIP is arguably the first [priority] because of timing," Stark said. The program is set to expire in March 2009. He also said that a lame-duck session, in which SCHIP legislation potentially could be passed, is not likely. According to Stark, the terms of a new SCHIP expansion bill could be different from legislation that was considered last year because the recent economic downturn could cause more children to qualify for the program. He said that income limits might have to be adjusted.
Stark said that the Medicare physician reimbursement system would be the "next order of business," noting that it is "as much a budget issue as a technical issue as to how we design" a new payment system (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 11/10). Under the current formula, about $200 billion to $300 billion would be needed over 10 years to eliminate cuts scheduled annually (CongressDaily, 11/10). Stark said, "We don't have that." He added that his staff is working on draft legislation.
Other "deferred maintenance issues" discussed by Stark include establishing a program to spur adoption of health information technology, utilizing comparative-effectiveness research and making changes to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Stark also said he would aim to reduce Medicare Advantage plan payments to private insurers to the level of the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program. He said he would like to see MA cuts used to help fund SCHIP but that a tobacco tax might be tapped instead.
As for legislation to overhaul the U.S. health care system, Stark said prospects are better than in the 1990s because of broader support from the business community and the American Medical Association (CQ HealthBeat, 11/10).
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