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Democratic Medicare Bill Does Not Pass

Armen Hareyan's picture

In the battle among two proposed Medicare bills Baucus' version got 39 and Grassley's version got 54 votes, reducing the risk for doctors' fee cut. However, Grassley's bill still was short of 6 votes to get the full 60 votes for approval.

Medicare is a federally funded health insurance plan covering about 44 million elderly and disabled individuals. Medicare is the largest buyer of healthcare products and services, spending about $400 billion a year in healthcare industry. There are about 600000 doctors taking care of Medicare beneficiaries, and the legislation suggested by Montana Democrat Senator Max Baucus and supported by most of Democrats is offering a 10.6% salary cut for these doctors. This 5 year bill would cost $19.8 billion.

This bill was proposed a few years ago and scheduled for January 2008, but in December 2007 Congress delayed the bill till July 1, 2008. June 30, 2008 is the deadline for passing a Medicare bill, and Senate is trying to find the best option for Medicare beneficiaries, doctors, and health insurers. The competing bill suggested by Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley will cost $12.5 billion for five years.

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Both parties were working on this Medicare bill improvements to avoid physician fee cut, but they do it in different ways.

Baucus' bill suggests that Medicare beneficiaries should have increased premiums by 0.5% for the rest of 2008 and by 1.1% for 2009 to fulfill physician payments. The bill will also cut private Medicare Advantage payments and will not include increase in physicians' payments in Medicare Part B premiums.

Grassley's bill will also stop physician payment cut by increasing premiums, but it will not cut private Medicare Advantage payments that strongly and will include increase in physicians' payments in Medicare Part B premiums. The bill will also delay for 18 months the restriction on Medicare to cover durable medical equipment, such as medical oxygen and power wheelchairs.

"The bill blocked today would have improved the program's low-income, preventive and mental health benefits without drastic increases in Medicare premiums," said AARP chief executive, Bill Novelli.