Baucus’ Attempt To Move Senate ‘Giveback’ Bill Directly to Floor Fails Again
For the second time in two weeks, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday requested unanimous consent to send a $44 billion Medicare provider "giveback" bill directly to the Senate floor, but Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) objected to the move, CongressDaily/AM reports (Fulton/Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 10/17). Cosponsored by Baucus and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the bill includes smaller than planned reimbursement reductions for hospitals and increases for rural physicians, hospitals and home health care agencies. Medicare+Choice plans would receive a 4% reimbursement increase in 2003 and a 3% increase in 2004 under the legislation (California Healthline, 10/16). Baucus said, "This bill is a priority ... for anyone who cares about ensuring that seniors have access to physician services." Nickles, however, objected to Baucus' request to bring the bill to the floor and instead asked that the bill be returned to the Senate Finance Committee for markup and then to the floor within two days. Democrats did not agree to send the bill back to the committee, CongressDaily/AM reports. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) also unsuccessfully sought unanimous consent to add a prescription drug benefit to the bill and to allow other amendments to be offered during floor debate.
Meanwhile, the House appears set to adjourn without taking action on a new Medicare bill, CongressDaily/AM reports. In June, the House passed a $30 billion Medicare package that includes provider giveback provisions and a prescription drug benefit (CongressDaily/AM, 10/17). CongressDaily/AM yesterday reported that the House was considering removing the drug benefit from the package and holding a floor vote on the giveback measures alone (California Healthline, 10/16). Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) said, "We'll definitely do a provider package, just not before the election because the Senate's paralyzed." Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) added that it is "up to the Senate to act" on giveback legislation, given that the House already passed such legislation (CongressDaily/AM, 10/17).
In other Medicare news, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Max Cleland (D-Ga.) have requested that three additional pilot studies be conducted before Medicare would begin using a competitive bidding process to purchase medical supplies, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. A provision authorizing Medicare to use a competitive bidding process is included in the Baucus-Grassley giveback bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates competitive bidding would save $7.7 billion over 10 years, and the Times-Picayune reports pilot competitive bidding systems have been "mostly positive." But Landrieu and Cleland say that competitive bidding would "erode quality, stifle innovation and put small companies out of business" (Walsh, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 10/17).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.