MEDICARE: Reaction to Thomas Plan Pours In
Health care industry reaction to a Medicare restoration plan introduced in Congress this week by House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) ranged from cautious support among providers and insurers to the "carefully noncommittal" stance of the White House, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. The American Hospital Association, American Health Care Association, Health Insurance Association of America and American Association of Health Plans all issued statements agreeing that the $15 billion proposal is a "good start," but called on Congress to do more. "We're certainly pleased there's been a recognition of the problem, and we appreciate that they're willing to use surplus money to do it," said Thomas Nickels, AHA senior vice president for federal relations. He added, however, that the plan "does not go far enough," and that hospitals would "prefer more money to be available, particularly for outpatient [payments]" (Rovner, 10/15). HIAA echoed the sentiment, commending Thomas for "recognizing the challenges facing private health plans that provide coverage to Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare+Choice program," but pointing out that his plan disappointingly does not deal with the "largest looming challenge facing Medicare HMOs: insufficient funding that fails to keep up with the cost of medical inflation" (HIAA release, 10/14). AHCA officials called the proposal a "temporary fix" that "shows promise in easing access problems caused by [Balanced Budget Act cuts], but it doesn't go far enough." Said AHCA vice president Linda Keegan, "It doesn't direct resources to the proper patient categories. The proposal fails to consider the sickest Medicare beneficiaries, the ones who need 24-hour skilled nursing care, suffer from multiple conditions and often require intense medical services as well as rehabilitation therapy" (AHCA release, 10/13). Meanwhile, White House health adviser Chris Jennings refused to say "whether the administration would be willing and/or able to make the $5.6 billion worth of administrative changes anticipated" in Thomas' plan, saying that President Clinton still believes "we should be doing everything in the context of broader reform or at least a down payment on reform," and reiterating concerns that Congress has "already spent all of the non-Social Security Surplus and then some," eliminating it as a possible funding source for restorations. "We've always said [any restorations] need to be paid for and can't undermine the fiscal integrity of the Medicare Trust Fund," Jennings maintained (CongressDaily/A.M., 10/15).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.