MEDICARE GIVEBACKS: Ways and Means Panel Passes Plan
By a 13-0 vote, the House Ways and Means health subcommittee yesterday unanimously approved a Medicare "giveback" package that would "guarantee seniors access to current and new health benefits," including expanded health access in rural areas and protection of all Medicare beneficiaries through a Medicare patients' bill of rights, in addition to increasing payments to hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and other providers (Ways and Means health subcommittee release, 10/3). The package, praised by both Democrats and Republicans, aims to restore some of the severe financial cuts imposed on providers by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. Citing costs, committee Republicans rejected several Democrat expansion amendments, including two offered by ranking subcommittee member Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) -- one for a $40 billion, five-year prescription drug benefit and another to "more quickly" reduce hospital outpatient copayments. They also rejected Rep. Jerry Kleczka's (D-Wis.) amendment calling for Medicare coverage of annual physicals and adult day care. Responding to the amendment proposals, subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said, "This is not the Queen Mary. It's relatively more of a small rowboat." The final package, which Thomas estimated would cost about $30 billion over five years, comes one week after the House Commerce Committee passed its Medicare giveback proposal, which the CBO estimates will cost around $18.2 billion over five years and $55 billion over 10 years. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to meet this morning to discuss its own five-year, $27 billion Medicare giveback plan (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 10/4).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.