Senate Cancels Medicare Bill Mark Up

Armen Hareyan's picture

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Wednesday canceled plans for a mark up of Medicare legislation and instead will negotiate directly with House Democrats on the measure, CQ HealthBeat reports. The bill would block a 10% cut in Medicare physician fees. According to CQ HealthBeat, Baucus has "struggled" with committee Republicans over whether to block the physician cuts for one year or two years, as well as on reductions to Medicare Advantage payments to help fund the physician fee fix. Baucus canceled a mark up one day after the Bush administration threatened to veto any bill that includes cuts to MA plans (CQ HealthBeat, 12/5).

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday in a letter to the Finance Committee wrote that a veto would be recommended for any bill that "results in a loss of access to health care services, benefits or choices" in the MA program; "raises taxes ... to fund spending increases"; or alters Medicare's fiscal status by overturning administration regulatory decisions (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday said of the veto threat: "What they're really saying is, 'We don't care if the doctors take a 10% cut'" (CQ HealthBeat, 12/5).


A coalition of health care and consumer groups announced support for legislation that would require Medicare physicians by 2011 to use electronic prescribing or face financial penalties, CQ HealthBeat reports. The bill's sponsors include Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.), and Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.).

Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst at Consumers Union, on Wednesday in a letter to the Senate wrote that the group wants Congress to implement e-prescribing in Medicare and Medicaid and called for the legislation to be included in the Medicare package. The e-prescribing measure would provide physicians with a bonus for each e-prescription written and provide funding for start-up costs associated with adopting the technology. It also would authorize the HHS secretary to provide physicians with one- or two-year hardship waivers if they have difficulty acquiring the technology. The Bush administration has asked that health information technology adoption requirements be included in any Medicare legislation that would prevent a physician fee cut.

Kerry said, "E-prescribing will save money, save time, save doctors from piles of paperwork and, most importantly, save lives," adding, "Deaths and injuries from handwritten prescriptions could be nearly eliminated if e-prescriptions were adopted on a wide scale. We need to seize this bipartisan opportunity and make this common-sense reform a reality now" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 12/5).

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