Senate Will Craft Medicare Legislation

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MedicareLegislation

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.) on Thursday said that the chamber would wait for the Senate to craftMedicare legislation rather than write its own bill because of continueddisagreement among lawmakers on what to include, CongressDailyreports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 12/13). The bill is being writtento stop a scheduled 10% reduction in Medicare physician fees scheduled to takeeffect Jan. 1, 2008.

Pelosi's announcement "represents a concession for Democrats" becauseit "means the House has essentially given up on a raft of changes toMedicare that had been a priority" for them, according to CQ Today.Senate Republicans had threatened a filibuster as a way to force a Medicarepackage that would be supported by the White House, conservative Republicansand private health firms, CQ Today reports.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) onThursday said the new legislation would not include any cuts to MedicareAdvantage plans. Previously, Baucus had said that Medicare legislation wouldinclude MA plan cuts. The Bush administration has threatened to veto anylegislation containing cuts to MA plans (Armstrong, CQ Today,12/13). Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursdaysaid Republicans would not accept any Medicare package that contains newpolicy, only fixes to "present policy." Grassley said he and Baucusearlier in the week agreed to a "pretty slimmed down" package (CongressDaily,12/14). Baucus said, "It's designed to pass ... and be signed by thepresident."

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Prospects

In addition to stopping theMedicare physician fee cut, the Senate bill could include a small increase tophysician payments or none at all, according to CQ Today (CQToday, 12/13). House Republicans have been pushing for extensions torural and low-income subsidies, transitional Medicaid assistance and paymentsfor rehabilitative services. It is unclear if the legislation will contain a provisionto mandate electronic prescriptions for Medicare, according to CongressDaily(CongressDaily, 12/14). The legislation also likely would extendSCHIP through Sept. 30, 2009. Congress on Thursday approved a continuingresolution that would extend funding for SCHIP program through Dec. 21. The CRthat currently is funding the program expired on Friday (CongressDaily,12/13).

The cost of the measure would be offset by taking money from a"stabilization fund" that is meant to pay private insurers for offeringnew services to beneficiaries in areas with few Medicare services. It alsowould draw money from MA payments to hospitals that provide teaching programs."It's my understanding that the double-dipping in medical education is theonly thing the president will approve (directly) out of MedicareAdvantage," Grassley said (CQ Today, 12/13).

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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