Bush Presses for Medicare Overhaul This Year
In a White House meeting yesterday, President Bush "urged" congressional health care leaders to "restructure Medicare this year," AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. While Medicare reform was one of the main themes of Bush's campaign, during which he "embraced" the reform proposal of Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), yesterday marked the first time since he took office that he indicated the issue would be a priority this year (Fournier, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/6). In addition to Breaux and Frist, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Reps. W.J. Tauzin (R-La.) and Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) attended the meeting (Koffler, CongressDaily/A.M., 3/6). Bush called the Breaux-Frist proposal "the framework for a bipartisan consensus" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6).
This proposal, also known as Breaux-Frist I, would introduce competition into Medicare, as seniors would be allowed to choose a private or government-sponsored health plan. In addition, all beneficiaries would receive a drug benefit, with subsidies based on a sliding income scale. Last month, the two senators reintroduced this proposal -- which is "generally opposed" by congressional Democrats -- as well as Breaux-Frist II, which would take a more incremental approach to reforming the program (California Healthline, 2/16). The president sent his four-year, $48 billion "Immediate Helping Hand" prescription drug plan for Medicare to Congress in January, where it was criticized by members of both parties, in part because they feared that enacting the plan would make it more difficult to achieve comprehensive Medicare reform in the future.
Noting that the short-term prescription drug plan would not be necessary if Breaux-Frist were passed, Frist said "he expected Bush to offer a set of principles ... that would help guide action" in Congress. He added that Bush's support for comprehensive reform would help ensure that Congress will not focus solely on a prescription drug benefit at the expense of the overall well-being of Medicare (Congress Daily/AM, 3/6). "Medicare modernization is hugely important to this administration. [The president] wants prescription drugs to be a part of modernization, and modernization not just to be a part of prescription drugs," he said (Allen, Washington Post, 3/6). Breaux added, "When it's all said and done, we're going to have universal coverage of prescription drugs and modernization of Medicare as our end result" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/6). Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which holds jurisdiction over Medicare, said that hearings on Medicare reform would begin this month, "with a markup targeted for July" (CongressDaily/AM, 3/6).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.