Grassley-Baucus Hurricane Medicaid Bill Blocked; Enzi-Kennedy Bill Introduced
Senators on Monday blocked a vote on a bipartisan bill (S 1716) that would provide federally funded Medicaid coverage to Hurricane Katrina survivors, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 9/27). Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Sept. 14 introduced the bill, which would have the federal government for five months pay 100% of Medicaid costs for survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama who have relocated to other states, with the option of extending the coverage for an additional five months.
The federal government also would pay 100% of Medicaid costs through the end of 2006 for all beneficiaries in Louisiana, Mississippi and counties in Alabama that have been designated as disaster areas. A Senate floor discussion on the bill scheduled for Friday was delayed until Monday by Republicans concerned about the bill's cost, which Baucus estimated to be $8.7 billion over five years (California Healthline, 9/23).
Speaking before the Senate on Monday, Baucus cited broad support for the measure from relief groups and others. Grassley "reminded his fellow Republicans of their promise to provide immediate relief to hurricane victims," CongressDaily reports. Several Republicans expressed opposition to the bill's cost, and some suggested that President Bush's plan to negotiate emergency waivers with state Medicaid programs should be given a chance before legislation is considered. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) said, "We must ask, is this really necessary?" (CongressDaily, 9/27).
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and ranking member Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Monday unveiled bipartisan legislation that would federally fund hurricane survivors' private health insurance premiums for three months. The bill, which Kennedy's office said would cost $1 billion, also would locate and track survivors with disabilities and recruit additional health care workers to the impacted region (Crittenden, CQ Today, 9/26). The bill also would increase the number of sites where survivors can receive health care and would direct additional mental health care funding to the region (CongressDaily, 9/27).
Under the measure, health insurers would be prevented from raising rates or canceling survivors' policies for three months. In addition, the bill would authorize spending for additional inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to monitor the safety of emergency and clean-up workers in the region (CQ Today, 9/26). The measure also includes initiatives to "cut red tape" that might slow federal agency relief efforts during public health emergencies by giving the federal government additional authority following natural disasters (CQ HealthBeat, 9/26). Enzi said, "One of the most important things Congress can do is to assure mothers and fathers that the health care needs of their families will be met -- and that their children will not have to go without or navigate through a complex bureaucracy to get the care they need" (CQ Today, 9/26).
In related news, President Bush and GOP leaders, "[p]rodded by conservatives, ... have said they are willing to offset [hurricane] costs with spending cuts," the Washington Post reports. However, unnamed House leadership aides and sources said the "political will does not exist to vote through the cuts that have been proposed," the Post reports.
A Republican Study Committee report released last week lists proposed cuts totaling $509 billion, more than half of which come from health care programs for the poor. The cuts proposed come at a time when eight charity hospitals in Louisiana have closed because of the hurricane, according to a House Republican leadership aide. The Post reports that the charity hospitals "were helping to keep people off Medicaid rolls" (Weisman, Washington Post, 9/27).