MEDICARE: Pres. Looks to Meet with Sen. Finance Committee
Hoping to "salvage" Medicare reforms, particularly a new prescription drug benefit, President Clinton's aides are "laying the groundwork" for a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee, according to White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. Podesta last week invited committee Chair William Roth (R-DE) to bring the entire committee to meet with Clinton, and this week is "talking with some of the committee's 20 Republican and Democratic senators and their staffs individually." He said, "We're now working together ... to decide how to proceed and on what schedule" (Love, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/30).
The Case Against Flo
Meanwhile, the Clinton administration also is moving to keep the Medicare prescription drug plan alive in the public arena, where it has faced spirited attack ads from the drug industry-bankrolled Citizens for Better Medicare. The ads' "grandmotherly" star "Flo," worries, "I don't want big government in my medicine cabinet." White House officials complained to industry executives last week that the ads are "misleading" and fail to provide full information. Industry officials retaliated with the charge that the White House has organized its own campaign "to mobilize labor and consumer groups to attack the 'Flo' ads." Citizens for Better Medicare recently ordered the Older Women's League (OWL) to cease using its "Flo" image in leaflets that designated "Flo" as "a fake" and covered her face with a circle and a slash, "the international symbol for 'no.'" But, Clinton aides "denied" that "the White House was behind OWL's no-Flo effort" (Ullmann, USA Today, 9/30).
Paying for Change
Although most legislators agree that Medicare needs at least some reform, the real dispute, writes Julie Rovner in CongressDaily/A.M., is how to pay for it. One solution that "most people appear to agree on," is "income relating" -- wealthier seniors pay more for benefits. Most view the principle as "a fair way to finance additional benefits, and ... to put the program on firmer financial footing," she notes. But, despite consistent and overwhelming public support from the Senate and President Clinton, the idea has failed to take off. The main reason, Rovner writes, "is that [an income-related premium] would be extremely cumbersome to administer," requiring the IRS to keep a month-to-month tally of Medicare recipients' incomes. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) has tackled the issue as well, unveiling a refined plan that would offer Medicare beneficiaries an "express subsidy to underwrite a new benefit." Those who accept the payment would be forced to pay taxes on it. "Since most low-income beneficiaries do not earn enough to pay income taxes, they would simply get the subsidy. ... Higher income beneficiaries would have to make a calculation, whether the subsidy, and its potential tax consequences, is worth it to them," Rovner explains (9/30).