MEDICARE I: Giveback Bill Would Also Expand Benefits
A bill designed to return Medicare funding to providers and payers would also expand coverage for preventive care and limit the out-of-pocket cost of outpatient services for Medicare beneficiaries, the New York Times reports. Expected to cost between $26 billion and $28 billion over five years -- two-thirds of which would go to health care providers and Medicare HMOs -- the legislation is currently "sailing through Congress with bipartisan support." Among other benefits, the bill would:
- Limit the amount that can be charged to beneficiaries for outpatient care to 60% next year, 55% in 2002 and 2003, 50% in 2004, 45% in 2005 and 40% in 2006 -- reductions that would save beneficiaries an estimated $1.8 billion. In recent years, "a quirk in the Medicare law" has forced patients to pay a "rapidly growing" share of outpatient services;
- Cover colonoscopies for all beneficiaries, rather than just for people who have a high risk of developing colon cancer as under current policy;
- Cover routine glaucoma screening for people with a high risk of the disease, rather than providing no coverage for routine glaucoma examinations as under current policy;
- Expand coverage of Pap smears and pelvic examinations from once every three years, as is current, to once every two years;
- Cover, for the first time, "medical nutrition therapy services" for patients with diabetes or kidney disease; the government will also study whether to extend coverage to other groups;
- Eliminate the 44-month time limit on coverage of drugs taken to prevent rejection of organ transplants.