MEDICARE: Clinton, Key Senators Make Little Reform Progress
Prospects for a comprehensive Medicare reform package this year look bleak after a meeting Tuesday between President Clinton and Senate Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-DE) and ranking member Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), CongressDaily/A.M. reports. Although White House officials insist publicly that they will continue "pushing for a wide-ranging bill" that covers the costs of Balanced Budget Act adjustments, Clinton indicated Tuesday that he may be willing to adopt a "piecemeal approach" to change in "hope that a smaller measure could become a vehicle for something more comprehensive." Pointing to struggling hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers, Clinton urged the Senators to "at least pass a circumscribed version of his Medicare reform plan (Koffler, 10/6). He said that one part of his proposal, which offers changes "in the way Medicare does business, could provide the funds needed to finance Balanced Budget Act give-backs. These reforms, "requiring competitive bidding by medical suppliers and giving retirees the chance to save money" by visiting "preferred providers," would save $25 billion over 10 years, he added (Love, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5). Clinton also noted that similar initiatives were included in the Breaux-Thomas recommendations earlier this year (White House release, 10/5). While Roth and Moynihan reasserted their commitment to a broad-based reform package, they told the president that it is unrealistic to focus on passing it now, because "time is short" (CongressDaily/A.M., 10/6). They did agree, however, to "consider some incremental changes," such as those suggested by the president, "that could yield more money for hospitals and nursing homes complaining of too-tight budgets." Roth spokesperson Tara Bradshaw said, "Sen. Roth believes there is some common ground, but Medicare reform is a complex issue and he doesn't want to rush into meeting any artificial deadlines" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5).
Hospitals Try the House
Meanwhile, teaching hospitals across the nation are hoping the House will make more progress on medicare reform than the Senate and President Clinton. They have "flooded Congress for months with urgent pleas for financial relief from Medicare cutbacks," the Chicago Tribune reports. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has hinted that a "five-year, $5 billion relief program could be put together before Congress adjourns to help not only teaching hospitals but also other health care providers." Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) also announced that he is working with the White House to relax some Medicare regulations in an effort to "prevent some $2.5 billion in cutbacks to hospitals nationwide during the next three years" (Japsen/Neikirk, 10/5).