Democrats To Move Forward With Medicare Package

Armen Hareyan's picture

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) onWednesday said he will move forward with a Medicare package developed byDemocrats that likely will be opposed by Republicans and the Bush administration,CQ Today reports. Baucus said he is retreating from crafting abipartisan Medicare package that would delay for 18 months a 10.6% cut tophysician fees (Armstrong [1], CQ Today, 5/21). Although bothparties want to halt the cut, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 1,they have been unable to agree on offsets to pay for the bill, among otherissues (Armstrong [2], CQ Today, 5/21).

Baucus said, "It seems clear to me that we're not going to get anagreement in time to meet the deadlines, so I'm going to move forward with abill that I think has the right policies and priorities for the Medicareprogram." He also said, "Frankly, the White House is a stone wall.And it makes it very difficult for the Republicans to negotiate," adding,"They just don't want any reductions to any of the (Medicare Advantage)plans."

Baucus and fellow Democrats on the committee have proposed cuts to MedicareAdvantage to offset the legislation, including cutting indirect medicaleducation payments to insurers and capping payments to private MA plans. Sen.Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said capping MA plan payments at 130% of traditionalMedicare costs would save $6 billion over five years. Democrats also want toadd some other provisions to the measure, including a small increase in thephysician fee rate, an electronic prescribing initiative and preventive careprograms (Armstrong [1], CQ Today, 5/21). The measure would cost$18.2 billion over five years, according to Conrad.


Medicare legislation drafted by Republicans would cost $14.9 billion over fiveyears, Conrad said (Armstrong [2], CQ Today, 5/21). According to CQToday, "Republicans will almost certainly block Baucus' proposal toforce a compromise after the Memorial Day recess." The compromise package"would likely be a pared down measure," CQ Todayreports. Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "Beforethis process is over, I'm confident that we're going to have a bipartisanpackage that passes the Senate," adding, "There are differences, butthere aren't big differences" (Armstrong [1], CQ Today,5/21).

Opinion Piece

"In July, thegovernment health insurance program for seniors and the disabled willautomatically begin draconian payment cuts to physicians," and Medicarebeneficiaries "will bear the brunt of the cuts to physicians, as doctorsare forced to make tough decisions because of cuts that push payments far belowthe increasing cost of providing care," American Medical Association President Edward Langston writes ina Seattle Post-Intelligencer opinion piece. Langston adds thatMedicare physician reimbursements currently are at "about what they werein 2001, while the costs of running a medical practice increase."

He writes, "And now Medicare projects cuts of more than 15% over ayear-and-a-half," and, without congressional action to prevent thereductions, "having a Medicare insurance card will not guarantee access tophysician care." About 60% of physicians have said they will limit thenumber of Medicare beneficiaries they treat without congressional action toprevent the reductions, Langston writes.

However, the "silver lining of the cloud is a bipartisan commitment topreserving seniors' access to care," he writes. Langston concludes,"Immediate congressional action will demonstrate real leadership as wework to preserve access to care for current and future generations of Medicarepatients" (Langston, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/21).

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