House Approves Bill To Extend Medicare Assistance Program
The House on Thursday passed a bill (HR 3971) that would extend for one year a program that covers some copayments for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, CongressDaily reports. In addition, the legislation would extend to the end of the year the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provides Medicaid coverage to low-income families that have obtained jobs after they received welfare assistance. The legislation also extends to the end of the year the federal program for abstinence education.
The bill also would ban Medicare and Medicaid coverage for erectile dysfunction medications to offset the cost of the other provisions (Heil, CongressDaily, 10/7). The ban would result in an estimated $690 million in savings, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Abrams, AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/7). According to bill sponsors Reps. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) and Jim McCrery (R-La.), the legislation would reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $100 million over five years and by about $1 billion over 10 years, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/6).
Deal has said taxpayers should not have to pay for ED drugs because they are not life-saving treatments. He previously backed similar legislation to end federal aid for the medications (Houston Chronicle, 10/7). However, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) said ED drugs often are prescribed to help men who are recovering from prostate surgery or other health problems return to normal sexual function and are effectively no different from cosmetic surgery for women who have undergone mastectomies to combat breast cancer. She added, "A flat ban on ED drugs for all seniors ... is just plain discriminatory and wrong." However, Johnson did not object to the bill's passage.
The Senate passed a bill (S 1778) on Sept. 29 that also extended the programs addressed in the House bill but did not include a ban on federal funding for ED drugs (CQ Today, 10/6). According to CongressDaily, the Senate likely will approve the House version by unanimous consent. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said in a statement, "I urge the Senate to act quickly on this legislation that not only provides critical relief to those who lost their jobs, but does it in a fiscally responsible way" (CongressDaily, 10/7).