‘Centrist’ Senators Outline Medicare Reform Plan
A group of "influential Senate moderates" on the Finance Committee yesterday released a "blueprint" of a proposal to reform Medicare and add a prescription drug benefit to the program, the Wall Street Journal reports. While not introducing legislation, the senators -- Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Breaux (D-La.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) -- said they would introduce a bill this fall (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 8/2). Under the "tripartisan" proposal, seniors would have three options for Medicare coverage. Each option would contain the same prescription drug benefit, which would be managed by private health plans and pharmacy benefit managers that had been federally certified. Subsidies would be available for lower- income seniors. The three choices outlined by the senators include:
- Traditional fee-for-service: Seniors could remain in Medicare as it currently stands and receive the prescription drug benefit.
- "Modernized" fee-for-service: Medicare's Part A and B would be combined, which would create a single deductible for hospital and physician services. Copayments and deductibles would be more costly, but the plan would offer "more in the way of benefits," including enhanced preventive services and hospital coverage (Serafini, CongressDaily/AM, 8/2).
- Improved Medicare+Choice: Medicare HMOs would offer "defined benefits packages," including drug coverage. In areas where Medicare HMOs have left the market, the government would contract with pharmacy benefit managers to offer drug coverage (Wall Street Journal, 8/2). The program would be run in a "more competitive manner."
At a press conference announcing the blueprint, the senators said they would "flesh out" further details over the August recess.
Immediately after the senators released the outline of their proposal, an "angry" Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he would not allow the committee to vote on the proposal. He said the plan "does not represent a broad majority in the Senate, and I cannot support it, and I will actively oppose it. It's robbery, not reform." Baucus and committee members John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said that seniors "do not want" Medicare reformed, but only want a prescription drug benefit added to the current program. They added that the moderates' proposal would use "too much" of the $300 billion set aside by this year's budget resolution for Medicare reforms and would siphon funds for a drug benefit. Baucus added he hoped his "quick and absolute word" on the proposal would encourage the group to "work again" with the committee on a different solution (CongressDaily/AM, 8/2).
Members of the Finance Committee have been meeting "almost daily" over the past few weeks to develop Medicare prescription drug legislation, the St. Petersburg Times reports. On Tuesday, these talks broke down after White House economic adviser Mark McClellan arrived at a closed committee meeting to "urge" the group to include principles supported by President Bush. These ideas were incorporated into the blueprint unveiled yesterday, the Times reports. While McClellan called the moderates' proposal an "encouraging step," Baucus and other Democrats said Bush's ideas are "designed to kill any chances of passing a bill this year." (Fritz, St. Petersburg Times, 8/2). A spokesperson for Grassley said, however, that the plan was "developed on Capitol Hill [and it is] not a White House proposal" (Wall Street Journal, 8/2). In an "effort at conciliation," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer issued a statement last night saying Bush "remains committed to working with" the entire committee "to bring better Medicare coverage, including a drug benefit, while strengthening Medicare's long term financial security" (St. Petersburg Times, 8/2).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.