Democrats Continue To Attack New Medicare Law
Democrats in both the House and Senate "continue to lash out" at the new Medicare law (HR 1), while Republicans head to Philadelphia for their annual retreat to discuss "how to sell" the legislation to seniors, CongressDaily reports. Democrats and some Republicans have introduced legislation that would remove language in the law that bans HHS from negotiating directly with drug companies and prohibits U.S. residents from purchasing prescription drugs from Canada. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Wednesday said that they will introduce a measure to "eliminate the $12 billion Medicare HMO slush fund and millions in HMO payments, provisions that will give insurance companies hundreds of millions of dollars -- $500 million this year alone -- while making seniors wait until 2006 for any alleged help with their drug costs." President Bush on Wednesday said, "The Medicare bill is a vital part of a vibrant health care system. I was proud to sign it, and any attempts by Congress to weaken it will meet my veto," CongressDaily reports.
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, on Wednesday released a study finding that according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, by 2010, monthly premiums for the Medicare prescription benefit could increase from about $35 to $47; the drug benefit deductible could grow from $250 to $350; and the amount beneficiaries must spend before catastrophic drug coverage begins could increase from $3,600 to more than $5,000. The report also found that by 2013, drug coverage premiums could be $58 per month, the deductible could be $445 annually and catastrophic coverage might not begin until beneficiaries have spent more than $9,000 out-of-pocket on drugs. Stark said that the prescription drug benefit is "meager" and "increasingly more unaffordable over time to beneficiaries on fixed incomes." (Rovner, CongressDaily, 1/29). The report is available online. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat reader to view the report.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday examined the ways in which drug and other health care companies have been "scrambling to hire government officials who worked on" the new Medicare law. According to the Journal, the law's "complexity and potential to shake up the industry" offers an "especially rich opportunity for government employees who want to switch to better-paying industry jobs." Health care companies "will be focusing new attention on CMS as it writes rules that determine who profits -- and who doesn't," the Journal reports. Former CMS Administrator Tom Scully said that CMS "is now as important to drug makers' bottom line as the FDA," the Journal reports. Scully recently left the agency to work in the Washington, D.C., office of Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird. Besides Scully, at least five congressional staffers and one top CMS staffer have left the federal government for the private sector. In addition, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has been offered a position as head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. While the passage of major legislation "provides a perfect opportunity for congressional and executive branch staffers to leave," the number of job changes related to the new Medicare law "is becoming a campaign issue," the Journal reports. The Journal reports that Democrats have "seized on the job changes ... as proof of their argument that the Medicare bill is better for business than ... beneficiaries." Government ethics rules state that former government employees cannot lobby former colleagues for one year, but "so many people from so many offices worked on the Medicare bill ... that plenty of opportunities to do business exist without violating the rules," according to the Journal (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 1/29).
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Pelosi earlier this week said that the House Ethics Committee should investigate statements made by retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) concerning his vote on the Medicare legislation, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 1/27). In December, Smith said that unnamed Republican leaders promised to donate $100,000 to his son's congressional race in exchange for his support. However, Smith later backed away from that comment and has said that suggestions that he was bribed are "technically incorrect." He added that although some Republican lawmakers had said that they would oppose his son's campaign, they did not offer to donate any money to the campaign as had been previously reported. Smith voted against the Medicare legislation (California Healthline, 12/9/03). Hoyer, said, "I am hopeful and of the opinion that this matter is not dead. We will continue to raise this issue" (CongressDaily, 1/27). Pelosi said, "Allegations of bribery on the floor of the House cannot go unanswered. Serious questions that affect the integrity and honor of this institution have been raised, and they must be answered under oath." Neither Hoyer nor Pelosi have requested a formal investigation. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chair of the Ethics Committee, said on Tuesday that calls to investigate Smith's statements are "politically motivated," CongressDaily reports. "They see this as a political issue to ride, and we don't want to make this committee a partisan, political committee," Hefley said, adding, "We'll look into it or not look into it based on the merits" (Wegner, CongressDaily, 1/29).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.