Democrats Fault Bush Budget Plan on Kids’ Health Insurance
The $2.9 trillion fiscal year 2008 budget proposal that President Bush released on Monday "received a frosty reception yesterday from congressional Democrats," the Washington Post reports (Montgomery/Lee, Washington Post, 2/7).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing "tried his best ... to pitch President Bush's plan to slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending, but Democrats were focused" instead on Bush's SCHIP proposals, CQ Today reports (Armstrong, CQ Today, 2/6).
The budget proposal includes a $5 billion increase in funds for SCHIP over five years. In addition, the budget proposal would limit SCHIP eligibility for new enrollees to children in families with annual incomes more than 250% of the federal poverty level, or about $38,000 for a family of four.
A number of states have expanded SCHIP eligibility to children and adults in families with annual incomes less than 250% of the poverty level (American Health Line, 2/6). The budget proposal would reduce federal matching funds for SCHIP enrollees who do not meet the eligibility requirements.
At the hearing, Leavitt "acknowledged that the administration-quoted $5 billion that the budget seeks in new money" for SCHIP "has been rounded up" and said that the "correct figure in the budget is $4.8 billion," CongressDaily reports.
Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) cited a Congressional Research Service estimate that SCHIP requires $15 billion in new funds over five years to maintain coverage for current program enrollees.
According to Leavitt, the CRS estimate is "not consistent with the belief of the administration" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 2/6). Leavitt said that the budget proposal would reduce the number of SCHIP enrollees from 4.7 million in 2008 to 4.3 million by 2012 (CQ Today, 2/6).
At the hearing, Dingell asked Leavitt whether the SCHIP eligibility requirements included in the budget proposal would prompt states to drop enrollees from the program.
Leavitt said, "I can assure you that it is dependent completely on state rules."
Dingell responded, "In other words, Mr. Secretary, you're asking us to pray."
Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) "tried to help Leavitt, saying that the 'S' in SCHIP stands for "state" and the 'C' stands for 'child,'" CongressDaily reports. "Was SCHIP established to cover 'adult children,'" Barton asked.
Leavitt replied, "No, Mr. Barton. It was not. SCHIP was intended to serve children" (CongressDaily, 2/6).
In related news, health care industry groups that represent physicians, hospitals and nursing homes "responded swiftly and strongly to denounce the spending cuts" in the budget proposal, The Hill reports (Young, The Hill, 2/7). The budget proposal includes more than $76 billion in Medicare savings over five years, $39.5 billion of which would result from limits on annual inflation adjustments for reimbursements to hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers.
The budget proposal also includes about $26 billion in Medicaid savings -- $13 billion from legislative changes and $12.7 billion from administrative changes -- over five years (American Health Line, 2/6).
"The overwhelming concern of those businesses that rely on Medicare and Medicaid payments for their financial well-being is that even if Congress tosses aside President Bush's budget, Democrats, too, are keen to identify budget savings that can be redirected to pay for the party's legislative agenda," The Hill reports. Democrats "have promised to offset all new spending increases or tax deductions," according to The Hill.
David Hebert, senior vice president of policy and government relations for the American Health Care Association, said, "Just because the Democrats are in control and you have a Republican president submitting a budget doesn't mean we can rest our laurels and assume that nothing is going to happen."
Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said the question is, "Will the Democrats accept the challenge to a balanced budget by 2012?"
According to The Hill, health care providers "with less political muscle, such as firms that provide and serve oxygen equipment in patients' homes, could be more vulnerable to legislative action on spending reductions" (The Hill, 2/7).
The budget proposal would allow the Department of Defense to increase enrollment fees and deductibles for medical care for military retirees younger than age 65 to raise more than $15 billion over five years and to increase retail pharmacy copayments for all military retires to raise $1.6 billion over five years, McClatchy/Arizona Daily Star reports. In addition, the budget proposal would increase enrollment fees for medical care for non-disabled, higher-income combat veterans to raise $526 million over five years.
Veterans with annual household incomes that exceed $50,000 would pay an annual enrollment fee of $250, and those with annual household incomes that exceed $100,000 would pay an annual enrollment fee of $750 (Hall, McClatchy/Arizona Daily Star, 2/7).
Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Phil English (D-Pa.) have asked colleagues to sign a letter in opposition to reductions in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals included in the budget proposal.
In addition, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) have introduced a bill that would increase Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals and establish a demonstration project for health care information technology in rural areas (CQ HealthBeat, 2/6).
Meanwhile, Democrats said that they might add $745 million in supplementary funds for SCHIP to a $93 million emergency war appropriations request submitted on Monday by Bush. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week asked Bush to include funds for SCHIP in the request, but the president declined.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the addition of funds for SCHIP to the request is "certainly an option," adding, "We know the states are running out of money on this. We're exploring all options" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 2/7).
Several broadcast programs reported on the budget proposal.
- APM's "Marketplace Morning Report": The program includes a commentary by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) (Gingrich, "Marketplace," APM, 2/7). Audio and a transcript of the commentary are available online.
- C-SPAN's "Washington Journal": Guests on the program include Senate Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (D-S.C.) and House Budget Committee ranking member Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 2/6). Video of the segment is available online. In addition, "Washington Journal" on Wednesday is scheduled to include an interview with House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.). ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 2/7). Video of the segment will be available online after the broadcast.
- KPCC's "AirTalk": Guests on the program include Joel Havamann, an assistant editor at the D.C. bureau of the Los Angeles Times; Max Sowickey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute; and Allison Fraser of the Roe Institute for Economic Studies at the Heritage Foundation (Mantle, "AirTalk" KPCC, 2/6). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Leavitt, Dingell, Barton and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/7). Audio of the segment is available online.
- WBUR's "Here & Now": Guests on the program include Rick Klein, a congressional reporter for the Boston Globe (Young, "Here & Now," WBUR, 2/5). Audio of the segment is available online.
- WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show": Guests scheduled to appear on the program on Wednesday include Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Stephen Moore, a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal ("The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 2/7).