Compromise Sought on Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, May Be Attached to ‘Giveback’ Bill
Senators hoping to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit before the end of the session are considering attaching the measure to a bill reversing Medicare reimbursement cuts that the Senate Finance Committee is set to mark up, CongressDaily/AM reports. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said the "giveback" bill may include a drug benefit, but they were not optimistic about the chances for a compromise. However, a group of Senate moderates, including Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), said they plan to work on a drug benefit until a deal is reached, CongressDaily/AM reports. Snowe said the differences between the Democratic- and Republican-backed benefit proposals "aren't that great." She added that it would be "very difficult to explain" to voters why Congress could address provider concerns with the giveback bill but could not aid Medicare beneficiaries with a drug benefit. CongressDaily/AM reports the stalemate on the Medicare drug benefit package could be resolved Oct. 1, when last year's budget resolutions expire (Rovner/Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 9/4). Under current rules, any bill costing more than $300 billion that bypasses the Senate Finance Committee must receive 60 votes to clear the Senate (California Healthline, 8/5). That rule expires when the current budget resolutions do. However, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said the lower threshold may not help pass a drug benefit. "Obviously it's easier to get 51 votes than 60, but you still have to have 60 if there's a filibuster," he said, adding, "If you're going to get something that's going to pass, prudence would suggest you have 60 votes" (CongressDaily/AM, 9/4).
In other Medicare news, about 25% of U.S. physicians say they plan to restrict or have already reduced the number of Medicare patients they treat because of lowered reimbursements, according to an American Medical Association survey, Bloomberg/Boston Globe reports. Medicare cut physician reimbursements by 5.4% Jan. 1; 42% of 520 doctors surveyed said they would not continue to participate in the program without assurance that rates would not be cut further. The AMA, which is lobbying Congress for reform of the Medicare payment formula, said many Medicare patients could go without care if further cuts are made, Bloomberg/Globe reports. Richard Corlin, the AMA's former president, said doctors could face an additional 12% reimbursement cut over the next three years if Congress fails to pass Medicare payment reforms (Bloomberg/Boston Globe, 9/4).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.