MEDICARE: HCFA Head Vows to Fight for Drug Benefits
HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle vowed to bring a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program yesterday, voiced her support for cooperative drug purchasing and predicted the pharmaceutical industry would ease its opposition to such programs. Speaking to a group in Milwaukee, she conceded that it "won't be easy to get Congress" to include a pricey prescription drug benefit, but said, "[N]ow is the time to do this for the next generation," even if it causes an increase in Medicare premiums. Rep. Tom Barrett (D-WI) warned, "The big pharmaceutical companies view this as a life or death issue." But DeParle said, "I see them as less firmly opposed to discussing the issue than they have been in the past." She "said she also was concerned" about Medicare's $1,500 annual cap on physical occupational and other therapy (Bauer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/23).
Monitoring Christian Science
Following yesterday's report that Medicare has reimbursed $50 million to Christian Science nursing centers since 1992 in a possible violation of constitutional church-state prohibitions, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) announced he would defend the payments. "Members of the Christian Science Church deserve the same basic fairness in federal aid that all other Americans receive. Other patients are reimbursed by Medicare for these services and Christian Scientists should be reimbursed, too," he said. Church spokesperson Gary Jones said, "Medicare does not reimburse for prayer. There's a lot of confusion on this." He contended the reimbursements cover "room, board, and physical care such as bathing and feeding." Jones concluded, "These are the same basic services, reimbursed at the same Medicare rates, that can be found in all nursing homes. ... There is oversight." The Boston Herald reports that Kennedy co-authored a 1997 bill authorizing Medicare payments to "religious non-medical health care facilities" after a bill specifically mentioning Christian Science was ruled unconstitutional (Miga, 3/23).
Return of the Reax
Editorials on the failure of the Medicare commission continue to dribble in:
- Savannah Morning News: "Last week ... Mr. Clinton abandoned his New Democrat roots and the bipartisan commission he championed and essentially embraced the status quo on Medicare. Why? Perhaps the president was never really interested [in] bipartisanship on Medicare. Perhaps he remembers the political hay Democrats made out of Medicare in 1995" (3/22).
- Scripps-Howard/Manchester Union Leader: "Persuasive arguments against [premium support] are precious few, but it does suffer from the political deficiency of not sounding like something for nothing. ... [T]hose opposing Sen. [John Breaux (D-LA)] must care not a whit that their obstinacy threatens the program's viability. After all, who will remember their culpability when the ship finally meets the rocks?" (3/18).
- San Jose Mercury News: "It's tempting to think President Clinton withheld his support of a Medicare advisory commission proposal last week in order to provide an issue for the next presidential campaign. But closer examination suggests his coolness toward a proposal to turn more of Medicare over to the private market was based not on an aversion to issue-less campaigns but on a well-founded aversion to the proposal itself" (3/23).