Leavitt Defends Proposed Health Cuts in Bush Budget Request
At a Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Democrats questioned HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt about provisions in President Bush's fiscal year 2009 budget request that would seek to reduce spending and growth in Medicare, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 2/6).
Leavitt said that "price-setting" practices used by Medicare have led to increased health care costs because beneficiaries do not receive adequate choices or information. He said, "I believe if consumers were informed with information about quality and cost, they would make decisions that drive quality up and cost down" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 2/6).
In addition, Leavitt said that, "if I could present a budget that would say, let's take a look at what would happen if beneficiaries in Medicare had quality ... if they had electronic medical records, if they had price comparisons, if they had choices, I believe that we would begin to see prices fall and quality go up. We can't score that" (CQ HealthBeat, 2/6).
Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "You want health care privatized and you want to cut government. That's what I see and that's a nonstarter here in terms of a discussion," adding, "The cuts to Medicare ... smacks of meat-ax cuts." Baucus said, "Where do I see in your budget the effort to cut health care costs? We're not going to solve this problem by whacking the bejeebies out of Medicare."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, "I believe you care about the poor and the less fortunate, but this budget does not care about the poor and less fortunate" (CongressDaily, 2/6).
During the hearing, committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) questioned Leavitt about provisions in the budget request that would increase spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $19.3 billion over five years.
He said, "The fact that the president said we only needed $5 billion carried a great deal of credibility with about three-fourths of the people on the Republican side of the aisle," adding, "We didn't get the bipartisan compromise that the president could sign, and we would have been able to do that if this had been acknowledged a year ago."
Leavitt said that the Bush administration had recalculated the demand for SCHIP. He added, "We have better estimates now" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 2/6).