MEDICARE CUTS: Thomas Vows to Move on Restoration Bill
Pressured by about 100 seniors who clamored yesterday on the Capitol lawn to preserve Medicare+Choice through funding givebacks to the program, House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) said "he hopes to move through committee next week" a bill that would restore some of the Balanced Budget Act cuts to insurers and providers. Although the Republican leadership has yet to decide exactly how much money would be reinfused into the system and to which health care sectors and industries the funding would be allotted, Thomas believes that the "bill should be popular among most House members." Recent giveback proposals have cited figures ranging from $7 billion to $20 billion over the next 10 years. Thomas said he hopes to reach an agreement with the Clinton administration on specifics before pushing the bill through the committee and the House (Lehman/Morrissey, CongressDaily/A.M., 9/23). Noting that the restorations must compete with other funding priorities, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) said, "In Congress, we need to have a lot of cooperation to get anything done ... [but it] is feasible to make a start" (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 9/23). Speaking at the rally, American Association of Health Plans President Karen Ignagni said, "Beneficiaries have come to Washington to send a message that they value their Medicare choices. They have come to Washington to challenge every member of Congress to keep the promises they made three years ago and to preserve their access to comprehensive, affordable health care benefits" (AAHP release, 9/22).
Hutchison, Abraham Aim to Preserve Hospital Funding
Meanwhile, in an effort to counteract the effects of BBA cuts on hospitals, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Spencer Abraham (R-MI) introduced a proposal yesterday that would restore one billion dollars to Medicare. The "American Hospital Preservation Act" of 1999 would "increase the annual inflation adjustments for in-patient Medicare payments by 0.5%" (Kelley, Omaha World-Herald, 9/23). Noting that "deeper than expected cuts have hospitals 'on their knees,'" Hutchison said that the funds would go "directly into the health care system 'with no formula and no ability to misconstrue Congress' intent.'" She added that the bill has several other backers, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senate Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-DE) (CongressDaily/A.M., 9/23).
Say You're Sorry
An editorial in yesterday's Bangor Daily News editorial chided the Clinton administration for failing to correct a report released last winter that claimed "[d]octors and hospitals ... were ripping off the Medicare system and it was up to the patients to stop them." An investigation by the FBI, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and the Attorney General revealed that the "real culprits turn out to be the people in the companies that pay the Medicare benefits." The editorial argues that these "instances of theft and pathetic service would be simply one more story about a bureaucracy grown too big for its own good if federal crusaders had not so eagerly attacked doctors and hospital administrators six months ago. ... So for whatever harm has been done, for however much time and effort have been lost in pursuit of the innocent and for the misguided zeal of the federal government, an apology is a good place to start. Followed immediately by job reassignments" (9/22).