Lobbyists, Interest Groups Place ‘Heat’ on Lawmakers To Ensure Passage of Medicare Bill
Interest groups and lobbyists with a potential stake in the outcome of conference committee negotiations on the House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1) are "applying ... heat" during Congress' August recess, CongressDaily reports. CongressDaily reports that interest groups' and lobbyists' "primary goal" is to ensure passage of a final Medicare bill. According to CongressDaily, many interest groups have begun making appearances at several town hall meetings being hosted by Democrats and Republicans over the break. The Employers Coalition on Medicare, a group of 60 large businesses and employer associations, has been encouraging member companies' plant managers and human resources personnel to attend such meetings in their local area, according to Ed Kaleta, the group's chair. The group also has begun an advertising campaign in local papers; one ad thanks conferees and certain lawmakers for their votes on the Medicare bills, and another encourages lawmakers who have expressed "hesitation" to support the bill that emerges from conference committee. Kaleta said the group hopes to convince conferees to support a provision that would grant employers incentives to maintain prescription drug coverage for retirees, CongressDaily reports.
The American Association of Health Plans also has begun encouraging member plans' beneficiaries to attend the town hall meetings to "carry the association's message" that stabilizing private Medicare plans would provide a "solid foundation" for future Medicare reforms (Heil, CongressDaily, 8/6). AAHP President Karen Ignagni said that association members "strongly suppor[t] the overall framework" of both the House and Senate bills, but she said that Congress must increase payments and reduce financial risks for private health plans to encourage them to participate in Medicare, the New York Times reports. She added that the "first order of business" should be to increase payments to HMOs, which have been leaving the Medicare market. Ignagni said that conferees should eliminate a Bush administration proposal that would require preferred provider plans to serve Medicare beneficiaries via regions consisting of one or more states. Ignagni said PPOs should be "free to serve entire regions or specific counties," the Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 8/7). AAHP plans to schedule personal meetings between members, beneficiaries and lawmakers, schedule talk radio appearances and opinion pieces and send detailed e-mail messages to beneficiaries to keep them updated on developments (CongressDaily, 8/7).
In a survey of 800 registered voters, half of whom are younger than age 55, 68% said they want lawmakers to compromise and produce a Medicare prescription drug benefit now, rather than waiting for lawmakers to take more time to develop a benefit with more comprehensive coverage, the Washington Times reports. The survey, released yesterday by Republican polling firm Andres McKenna Polling and Research, also found that 62% of respondents favor a proposal that would enact reforms to Medicare, as well as create a prescription drug benefit; 25% said they would prefer a prescription drug benefit, even if it does not include any changes to Medicare. Among respondents older than 55, 54% said that changes to Medicare are a "reasonable price to pay" in return for a drug benefit, the Times reports. More than 75% of respondents of any age said that Medicare needs "significant" or "some" changes, compared with 5% who said that Medicare does not require alterations (Fagan, Washington Times, 8/7).
CMS on Aug. 6 proposed a rule that would increase by 3.8% in calendar year 2004 payments to hospital outpatient departments for providing individual services to Medicare beneficiaries. The rule would increase aggregate payments to outpatient departments by 5.7%. CMS estimates that total payments to hospitals under the outpatient perspective payment system will be $22.8 billion in 2004, compared with an estimated $21.6 billion in 2003 (CMS release, 8/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.