Democrats Plan Attack on New Medicare Law When Congress Returns
With Congress preparing to reconvene on Jan. 20, Democrats who opposed the Medicare legislation (HR 1) on Monday "denounc[ed] the arm-twisting tactics used to pass the bill in the House" in November and said they are gearing up to continue their fight against the new law, the New York Times reports. The Democrats aim to decrease the role of private health plans in Medicare, enhance the prescription drug benefit and give Congress the authority to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) already have introduced legislation to change the law, and other Democrats in both chambers are working on comprehensive reform bills, according to the Times. The proposals call for permitting U.S. residents to purchase medications from Canada; eliminating a provision allowing the creation of tax-preferred health savings accounts for individuals; addressing the gap in drug coverage; and eliminating a provision calling for a pilot project that would test competition among private health plans and traditional, fee-for-service Medicare in six areas of the country. Democrats also plan to criticize a planned increase in payment rates to private health plans, scheduled to be announced Jan. 16, as well as the prescription drug discount card program, which will begin this spring. The Bush administration and other Republican lawmakers, who have said they see "no need for even technical corrections" to the law, are "prepared to defend" it, and they predict that Democrats will "not gain traction with their arguments," the Times reports. According to the Times, the House Republican Conference has given its members "suggested responses" to arguments from Democrats. "We want the debate to start now," Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said, adding, "This issue is far from resolved. We don't want people to go through the election and the year without knowing what's in the law" (Pear, New York Times, 1/6).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.