Democrats Will Not Participate in Medicaid Study Commission
Democratic congressional leaders on Thursday announced that they will not participate in a new Medicaid study commission on which lawmakers are given only an advisory role, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Freking, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/27). As part of the fiscal year 2006 budget resolution approved by Congress last month, lawmakers created a commission to recommend ways to cut $10 billion from Medicaid over five years. The commission also will propose long-term solutions to slow the program's rising costs. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt last week announced that he will appoint the commission's 15 voting members.
The voting members will include Leavitt or his designee; federal Medicaid officials; current or former governors; current or former state Medicaid directors; three health care policy experts from public policy organizations; and other "individuals with expertise in health, finance or administration," according to the commission charter. In addition, eight members of Congress, including four that would have been appointed by Democrats, and up to 15 health policy experts are slated to act as nonvoting members (California Healthline, 5/23).
The commission is the result of a compromise between White House officials and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who initially opposed Medicaid cuts but agreed to $10 billion in exchange for a commission to study how Medicaid costs could be lowered without hurting beneficiaries. Smith and other lawmakers urged Leavitt to allow the Institute of Medicine to administer the panel, but the request was rejected (CQ HealthBeat, 5/26). Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a joint statement said, "An invitation to Democrats to select four members of the Senate and House to advisory roles without a vote is wholly inadequate to lend any commission even the air of bipartisanship" (Lakely, Washington Times, 5/27).
They said, "Unfortunately, the partisan nature of the commission and the lack of voting rights are not our only reasons for refusing to appoint members" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/27). Reid and Pelosi added that they also "fundamentally disagree with the premise that this commission should make recommendations on how to cut Medicaid outlays by $10 billion by Sept. 1" (CongressDaily, 5/27).
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in a statement said, "Regrettably, the primary initial charge of the administration's commission is to engage in a budget-driven, rather than policy-driven, exercise to produce $10 billion in 'scorable' Medicaid cuts" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/26).
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "The action today by the Democratic House and Senate leadership should send a clear message that the Medicaid commission is nothing but a farce."
Ron Bonjean, a spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said, "It's unfortunate that, once again, the Democrats have chosen to play partisan politics with an issue as important as the Medicaid commission." He added, "The process of coming up with these recommendations should be a politics-free zone" (Washington Times, 5/27).
Craig Stevens, an HHS spokesperson, said Leavitt is disappointed, but the statements do not "deter his commitment to have a fair and balanced and open commission, and he will continue to seek input and ideas from all points of view." Stevens added that Leavitt will personally contact Democrats to ask them to participate in the commission (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/27).