House Panel Approves FY 2006 Budget Proposal; Senate Plan Likely To Pass
The House Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 22-15 to approve its fiscal year 2006 budget resolution, which calls for $69 billion in cuts over five years to mandatory spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, about $18 billion more than President Bush requested in his budget proposal, CQ Today reports (Taylor, CQ Today, 3/9). In his FY 2006 budget plan, Bush proposed revisions to Medicaid that he estimated would save $60 billion over 10 years and $14 billion over five years.
The Congressional Budget Office projected that Bush's plan would reduce Medicaid spending by $9 billion over five years (California Healthline, 3/9). The House budget would require the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid and shares jurisdiction over Medicare Part B, to find $20 billion in savings over five years. The budget also would require the House Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over Medicare Part A, to find $18.7 billion in savings over five years (Weisman, Washington Post, 3/10).
The Senate Budget Committee on Thursday is expected to approve the Senate's FY 2006 budget proposal, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 3/9). The Senate budget proposes $32 billion in cuts over five years for mandatory spending programs, including Medicaid. Senate Budget Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) "has targeted Medicaid in a manner consistent with" what Bush has proposed, CongressDaily reports (Cohn, CongressDaily, 3/10).
The Senate Finance Committee, which has authority over Medicare and Medicaid, would be tasked with finding cuts totaling about $14 billion, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/10). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would be responsible for making $8.6 billion in cuts, according to the Washington Post (Washington Post, 3/10). Gregg said his budget proposal "is not a radical departure and won't even significantly change the glidepath" or affect services of mandatory spending programs (Cohn, CongressDaily, 3/10).
House Budget Committee Chair Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) said that under his budget outline, Medicaid and other programs would "continu[e] to grow at huge rates." He added, "We're not starving programs" (Washington Post, 3/10).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said cuts to Medicare proposed by the House are unlikely to be included in the final budget. "I'm not anticipating touching Medicare," Grassley said, adding, "Right now we're all focusing on Medicaid." However, he added that reducing Medicaid spending by as much as the budget calls for "is going to be a heavy lift" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/10).
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said, "People will feel some real pain [under the proposed budgets], but I don't know how you get a deficit down without people taking some medicine."
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said the budget proposals "as[k] the most from those who have the least and the least from those who have the most."
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), referring to as much as $106 billion in proposed tax cuts over the next five years, said, "If you have a dam with two holes and you plug up only one and leave the other one wide open, that doesn't get the job done" (Washington Post, 3/10).
Health industry lobbyists said physicians, home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities and laboratories "fear their Medicare and Medicaid payments will be cut," according to CQ HealthBeat.
The American Hospital Association wrote in an announcement to its members, "While not specifically mentioning Medicare, it is highly likely that, in order for the Ways and Means Committee to achieve cuts of this magnitude, a large portion may have to come from Medicare." AHA added, "[D]espite verbal assurance from some that there was no appetite for Medicare cuts on the Hill, others had been mobilizing an effort to shore up support for Medicare reductions."
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said in a statement, "At a time when states are already straining to pay for their existing Medicaid programs, the proposals by the budget committees will shift a large and unbearable burden onto the states" (CQ HealthBeat , 3/9).
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and other agency officials on Wednesday testified before the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said it is important that NIH have a "buildup of research dollars," but he did not state whether he supports Bush's request to increase the agency's budget by only 0.5% in FY 2006. He said he wants the subcommittee to maintain "a healthy growth plan" for NIH (CQ HealthBeat , 3/9).
In related news, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would delay by six months the Jan. 1 expiration date of Medicaid prescription drug benefits for 6.4 million people eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare, CQ HealthBeat reports.
The proposal would alter a provision in the Medicare prescription drug law that dual eligibles have from Nov. 15, 2005, until Jan. 1, 2006, to pick a Medicare drug plan or otherwise be automatically enrolled in coverage that some say might fail to address their specific needs. Rockefeller said dual eligibles are "some of the most vulnerable populations in our society" (CQ HealthBeat , 3/9).