House, Senate Approve Bill To Extend Medicare Assistance Program
The House and Senate on Wednesday approved a compromise bill (HR 3971) that would renew a federal program that covered the cost of Medicare Part B premiums for low-income beneficiaries, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Abrams, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/20).
Under the Qualifying Individuals program, the federal government covers the cost of Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with monthly incomes between $1,097 and $1,464. The basic Medicare Part B premium will increase from $78.20 monthly this year to $88.50 monthly in January 2006. The House and Senate passed separate bills to renew the program, but lawmakers on Oct. 7 left for a 10-day recess before they resolved differences between the bills. As a result, federal authority for the program expired on Sept. 30. The Bush administration last week called on Congress to pass legislation to renew the program (California Healthline, 10/17).
On Wednesday, the House and Senate reached an agreement on a compromise bill (CongressDaily, 10/19). Both chambers subsequently passed the legislation by voice vote, "clearing the way for President Bush's signature," CQ Today reports. The bill would extend the QI-1 program through Sept. 30, 2007. In addition, the legislation would extend through Dec. 30 the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides transitional Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals who have obtained jobs after they received welfare assistance, and a separate program that provides grants to groups that promote abstinence-only sex education.
The legislation does not include a provision in the original House bill that would have allowed Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to access TANF funds to help cover the cost of emergency welfare benefits for Hurricane Katrina evacuees (Swindell/Schuler, CQ Today, 10/19). However, the compromise bill would provide $500 million in federal unemployment funds for hurricane-affected states.
The bill also would ban Medicare and Medicaid coverage for erectile dysfunction medications to offset the cost of the other provisions. Medicaid reimbursements for ED medications would end on Jan. 1, 2006, and Medicare reimbursements for such treatments would end on Jan. 1, 2007. States could continue to cover the cost of ED medications through their Medicaid programs, but the federal government no longer would provide matching funds for the coverage. The provision would save the federal government $690 million over five years, according to Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), who sponsored the original House bill.
According to the AP/Sun, Congress "has made several attempts in recent years to end federal subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs, but this is the first to clear both chambers and be sent to the president." Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "This legislation extends very important benefits for people who live on the edge of poverty. And the provision included to offset the costs of these programs recognizes that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for certain lifestyle prescription drugs through Medicare and Medicaid" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/20).