Medicare Bill Includes Last-Minute Provisions for Legislators’ Home States
Before Congress gave approval last week to a large bill (HR 6408) made up of health care and nonhealth care items, leaders from both parties "quietly" added "[o]bscure provisions of interest to just a few lawmakers," the New York Times reports.
One provision supported by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) "showed up mysteriously after House and Senate negotiators had finished writing the bill," the Times reports. Hastert's provision suspends enrollment deadlines for certain Medicare Advantage plans, including those operated by Illinois-based Aon Corporation; its subsidiary, Sterling Life Insurance Company; and potentially other insurers.
Hastert spokesperson Ron Bonjean said the provision, which allows people to enroll in the plans any time during the year -- rather than from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31 each year -- is intended "to get more people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans."
Larry Oday, a lawyer and lobbyist for Aon, said the company had been "actively involved in consideration of this piece of legislation" and added that it could benefit other insurers as well.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Senate negotiators were "infuriated" by the inclusion of the provision, the Times reports. Grassley said, "It disturbs me that this major policy change -- one that treats some plans unfairly -- was included at the last minute by the House Rules Committee."
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the final hours of negotiations "also got special treatment" for his state, winning $3.8 million in relief funds for a Nevada hospice, the Times reports. Reid said the legislation was meant to overturn "a flawed administrative ruling" by CMS.
In addition, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) added a provision providing an estimated $131 million for Tennessee hospitals serving disproportionate numbers of Medicaid beneficiaries, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) inserted a provision sought by his constituents that earmarked $40 million for a vaccine for a soil-borne fungus (Pear, New York Times, 12/15).