Medical Industry Benefits from Labor-HHS Spending Bill
The medical industry used the "hectic windup" of the 106th Congress to "persuad[e] lawmakers to pay for new high-tech equipment, garnering tens of millions more research dollars and staving off cuts in Medicare payments," the Washington Post reports. The appropriations, included in a "foot-high" spending bill signed into law Dec. 21 by President Clinton, are expected to add "hundreds of millions" of dollars to the cost of Medicare over the next "few years." The Post reports that "[m]embers of Congress find it hard to resist the lobbying pressure of medical groups and the lure of new devices that promise health care advances." The spending "illustrates the difficulty of containing federal health outlays in an era of budget surpluses." One of the budget package's new expenditures will "effectively doubl[e]" reimbursements for mammograms performed with new digital technology. The digital machines are "several times more expensive" than conventional mammography, but have not "been proven yet to be better than film at detecting cancer," the Post reports. Another provision in the bill will prevent reimbursement rates for chemotherapy drugs paid to oncologists from decreasing for "at least" nine months. Oncology groups "acknowledge" that the current rates are higher than the actual cost to them of buying the drugs, but argue that Medicare pays "so little" for other cancer services that the drug prices "support their practices." Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute, said, "The companies and medical professions that make up a big component of our economy are just like the other big players [with interests in the budget]. We shouldn't be naive and expect them to behave any differently" (Morgan/Babcock, Washington Post, 12/26).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.