Hospital Representatives Lobby Lawmakers for Increased Medicare Reimbursements
Hospital representatives lobbied lawmakers yesterday to increase Medicare payments for hospitals and other providers, CongressDaily reports. American Hospital Association President Dick Davidson and representatives from rural and teaching hospitals said that an increased demand for care, a shortage of workers, a "lag in technology" compared with other industries and the "unwillingness" of the federal government to assist has "bogged down" the hospital industry, CongressDaily reports. Congress failed to increase provider payments last session. On Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) introduced legislation that would cancel a scheduled 4.4% cut in Medicare payments to physicians (Fulton, CongressDaily, 1/8).
CongressDaily reports that Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Finance ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have opposed efforts to address only physician concerns and are also pushing to increase payment for rural hospitals (Fulton, CongressDaily, 1/8). Meanwhile, a coalition of doctors and health officials from Massachusetts met with White House officials to discuss their concerns about Medicare reimbursement cuts. Ron Hollander, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, said that although the administration "expressed concern" about the issues, he does not think the White House will address reimbursement issues until President Bush releases the details of his Medicare reform plan. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, "Modernizing our Medicare system and adding a prescription drug benefit is our top priority for seniors' health care, and the president intends to talk more about it very soon" (States News/Boston Globe, 1/9). C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" today included an interview with American Medical Association President-elect Donald Palmisano about the organization's lobbying of lawmakers to increase Medicare payments for providers ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 1/9). The full segment will be available in RealPlayer online later in the day after the broadcast.
In other legislative news, CongressDaily/AM reports that Senate Republicans looking to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit had hoped to incorporate the reforms into budget reconciliation legislation to avoid a Democratic filibuster, as reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered under Senate rules. However, a memo from the Congressional Research Service has indicated that such a procedural effort could be subject to a point of order under the Byrd rule, a Senate rule named for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) that prohibits "extraneous" items -- provisions that would increase the deficit for a year beyond the years covered in the reconciliation bill -- from being included in budget reconciliation. Bypassing the Byrd rule would require 60 votes. The memo notes that past challenges invoking the Byrd rule "make it unlikely that a permanent Medicare drug benefit could survive," CongressDaily/AM reports. In November, Grassley said the reconciliation process would be the preferable way to pass a prescription drug bill (CongressDaily/AM, 1/9).
The following summaries highlight recent commentary on President Bush's planned Medicare reforms.
- Although Bush is likely to argue that the "best way" to add new benefits to Medicare while controlling costs is to provide seniors with a choice of health plans from competing insurers, such a plan will not likely assuage critics, such as Democrats and consumer advocates, who are "sure to argue" that such a strategy was used with the "failed" Medicare+Choice program, Michael Waldholz writes for the Wall Street Journal. Given the divisiveness on the issue and the fact that Democrats are not likely to "give Republicans [a] victory" on Medicare reform before the 2004 elections, "seniors will likely have to wait at least another year to get the kind of real reform that will save money and improve their care," Waldholz concludes (Waldholz, Wall Street Journal, 1/9).
- Although President Bush is expected to release a Medicare reform plan and the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to try to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Democrats have little incentive to pass a plan before the 2004 elections and would prefer to see Republicans fail in their efforts to reform the program, according to a Bangor Daily News editorial. To avert Democratic resistance, the editorial concludes, Bush "could most effectively" pass comprehensive Medicare reform "by passing [a] more popular drug benefit first and using this as a model for overall reform" (Bangor Daily News, 1/7).