Conferees Fall Behind Schedule on Medicare Negotiations
Members of the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1) have fallen behind their planned schedule to complete work on a final Medicare bill by Oct. 17, CongressDaily reports. Medicare conferees this week had planned to address "key decisions" about how to add a prescription drug benefit to the program, but they have not completed work from last week on a provision to introduce private competition into the program, CongressDaily reports (Rovner/Heil, Congress Daily, 9/30). Conferees on Tuesday moved from the private competition provision to other issues, such as the structure of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, how the benefit would affect retiree benefits and how to provide the benefit to low-income beneficiaries (Rovner/Stanton, CongressDaily/AM, 10/1). Conferees plan to continue negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday, but staff-level negotiations on some less controversial issues have "slowed to a crawl," CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/30). However, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that he was "very pleased" with the progress of the negotiations, adding, "As long as we're making good progress, we can come very close to making that deadline of Oct. 17." Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a member of the conference committee, agreed but said that he "doubted many decisions would be made until the following week, just days before the deadline," CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 10/1).
In related news, Roll Call reports that House Republican leaders have begun to develop a strategy for passage of a final Medicare bill, in part by "identifying which members will need coaxing and which issues will make it toughest to build even a bare-majority" of support. According to Roll Call, House Republican leaders also are "counting on an assist from President Bush" as part of their strategy (Pershing, Roll Call, 10/1).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.