HHS Officials Tell House Lawmakers That Medicare Should Resemble Federal Employees Health Benefits Program
Bush administration officials on Wednesday told members of a House subcommittee that Medicare should "more closely resemble" the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to "better serv[e]" beneficiaries, Reuters Health/Yahoo! News reports. Under FEHBP, about 200 private insurance companies compete to offer health coverage to about nine million federal employees, retirees and their families. Bobby Jindal, assistant HHS secretary for planning and evaluation, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health that "Medicare's coverage should be improved to give beneficiaries the same kind of reliable health care options and access to innovative benefits that all federal employees and many other Americans enjoy." He added, "Private plans like those offered to federal employees have long been the choice of millions of Medicare beneficiaries because these plans allow beneficiaries to receive more up-to-date benefits than those available under traditional Medicare." Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said, "Members of Congress have excellent health care benefits and participate in a system that improves automatically over time. Why shouldn't our nation's seniors?"
Democrats on the subcommittee said that the proposal would "undermine Medicare by stripping it of government-guaranteed benefits" as part of a Republican effort to "privatize Medicare to get its growing costs off the government books." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, "In reality it is simply an attempt to limit the government's financial contribution to Medicare and pass the extra costs on to seniors." Democrats said that the "struggling" Medicare+Choice program should serve as an example that the private sector "cannot adequately serve the senior market." Hundreds of health plans have withdrawn from the program or reduced benefits for seniors as a result of increased health care costs and low Medicare reimbursements. "The retirement safety net was not put in place because liberals wanted to make the federal government bigger, and it should not be dismantled because conservatives want to make the federal government smaller," Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, adding, "The safety net was put in place because the private sector couldn't make a profit offering health insurance to seniors so they stopped doing it." Janice LaChance, a former director of the Office of Personnel Management, which administers FEHBP, said in a written statement that Congress should not use the program as a model for Medicare reform. She said that FEHBP health insurance premiums have increase by about 50% over the past five years, making health coverage "unaffordable" for federal employees and retirees. "Until the affordability issue is thoroughly examined and the reasons for the premium increases completely understood, I would urge the members of this subcommittee to proceed with extreme caution before applying the principles of FEHBP to Medicare," LaChance wrote (Rovner, Reuters Health/Yahoo! News, 3/20).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.