Groups, Lawmakers Lobby Against Medicare Coverage Reductions

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Advocacy groups have begunto lobby lawmakers as Senate Finance Committee members discuss a Medicare billthat likely will decrease reimbursements for some health care providers tofinance the suspension of a 10% reduction in payments for physicians scheduledto take effect on Jan. 1, 2008, CQ HealthBeat reports. According to CQ HealthBeat,the groups seek to "make sure that their reimbursements remainuntouched." In addition, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has asked thecommittee to avoid a decrease in spending for the Medicare oxygen benefit,which in recent years has sustained an estimated $1.5 billion reduction becauseof new federal regulations.

In a letter to committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member ChuckGrassley (R-Iowa), the lawmakers wrote, "Additional cuts to the Medicareoxygen benefit could not only increase costs to the Medicare program in theform of increased hospitalizations but could also present substantial healthrisks to over half a million Medicare beneficiaries."

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in a letter also asked committee leaders, as well asSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.), to avoid a reduction in Medicare reimbursements for skilled nursingfacilities. In the letter, Pryor said that skilled nursing facilities servethree million Medicare beneficiaries annually and that, because 70% of thecosts of the facilities are related to labor, "any reduction in Medicarefunding for SNF care will likely have a direct and negative effect on theseAmericans."

AARP Lobbies Lawmakers

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In addition, AARP CEOBill Novelli has asked committee members to pass legislation to suspend thescheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians without anincrease in premiums for beneficiaries. Novelli in a letter wrote, "IfCongress enacts a Medicare physicians update without offsetting the coststhrough other legislation, the cost to the beneficiaries will be reflected inthe announcement in the fall of 2008 and 2009 and beyond," adding,"Older Americans are willing to pay their fair share for Medicare, but weshould not ask them to take on an increasing burden for a flawed physicianspayment system" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 11/28).

AARP in the next two weeks will hold forums in eight states -- Tennessee, Kansas, Montana, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nebraska and Maine-- to lobby lawmakers to pass legislation to suspend the scheduled reduction inMedicare reimbursements for physicians (Edney, CongressDaily,11/27).

Lack of Agreement

The committee plans to markup the Medicare bill next week, but staff members "say there is noagreement on its main components," CongressDaily reports. Committeemembers have not reached an agreement on the length of the suspension of thescheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians, "a choicelargely dependent on how to pay for that provision," according to CongressDaily.

The majority of committee members support a two-year suspension, but "somemight balk at the longer time frame if it means a deep cut in MedicareAdvantage or other unwelcome health care provider reductions," CongressDailyreports. According to CongressDaily, the mark up of thelegislation could "slip" in the event that committee members cannotreach an agreement (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/27).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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