AARP Opposes Budget Enforcement Bill, Says It Could Affect Medicare Benefits
AARP CEO Bill Novelli on Tuesday wrote a letter saying that budget enforcement legislation drafted by House Budget Committee Chair Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) would impose "unrealistically low" discretionary spending caps in the coming years and could affect new benefits called for under the Medicare law. The budget enforcement legislation calls for spending caps of $821 billion in fiscal year 2005 and $835 billion in fiscal year 2006. Novelli also said he is opposed to an amendment proposed by Republican conservatives that would cap entitlement spending at the rate of inflation by making "across-the-board cuts in programs other than Social Security," CongressDaily reports. Although the amendment would limit to 2% potential spending reductions for Medicare, it could still force cuts in the prescription drug benefit, Novelli said. In the letter, he states, "This could have a serious effect on the ability to implement the new drug law and on the ability of older Americans to purchase affordable prescription drugs. House Republican leaders still plan to bring the legislation to the floor on Thursday, "despite grumbling within the ranks," CongressDaily reports (Cohn, CongressDaily, 6/23).
In other Medicare news, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sent letters to congressional leaders and President Bush to renew their call for an investigation into whether the administration misled Congress about the cost of the new Medicare law, The Hill reports (Marre, The Hill, 6/23). According to White House Office of Management and Budget estimates released after Congress passed the Medicare law last November, the legislation will cost $534 billion over 10 years -- $134 billion more than the cost previously estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. CMS chief actuary Richard Foster has said that the administration had the higher cost estimate before the final House and Senate votes on the Medicare law and that throughout the legislative process, his estimates on the cost of the legislation ranged from $500 billion to $600 billion over 10 years. Bush and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson have said that the Medicare law will cost no more than $400 billion over 10 years (California Healthline, 5/18).
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Democratic lawmakers called on Congress to demand that the Bush administration release internal documents related to the Foster cost estimates. In a separate letter to Bush, the Democratic lawmakers asked the president to "provide answers in his role in the Medicare issue," The Hill reports. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Tuesday scheduled a private committee hearing for Thursday to examine the "process for preparing cost estimates on pending and proposed legislation." Foster plans to testify at the hearing (The Hill, 6/23).
The Renal Leadership Council, which represents four of the largest renal care providers, has hired the law firm Alston & Bird to address issues such as Medicare dialysis reimbursement, quality of care and patient access, the Washington Post reports. Former CMS Administrator Tom Scully; Colin Roskey, former health policy adviser to the Senate Finance Committee; and Marc Scheineson, former associate commissioner of FDA, all work at Alston & Bird.
In related news, Public Citizen on Wednesday released a report examining lobbying on the Medicare legislation passed last December. The study, "The Medicare Drug War," examined federal lobbying disclosure records and found that pharmaceutical companies, HMOs and related groups hired at least 952 lobbyists and spent nearly $141 million to "push their agenda" in Congress and before the Bush administration, the Post reports. The report also found that "[p]assage of the Medicare bill set in motion an exodus from the Bush administration" to help clients "benefit from the Medicare bill that they wrote or promoted." Former government officials who went to work for companies in the private sector following passage of the bill include Scully; Thomas Grissom, former director of the Center for Medicare Management; Dallas Sweezy, former director of public and intergovernmental affairs at CMS; and James Capretta, the top official on Medicare policy development at the Office of Management and Budget (Sarasohn, Washington Post, 6/24). The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.