MEDICARE REFORM: Breaux, Thomas Reject Near-Elderly Plan
The leaders of the bipartisan Medicare reform commission said yesterday "they want Congress to delay action on [President Clinton's] plan for opening Medicare to younger people," the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Sobieraj, 3/6). The Washington Times reports that "in a closed door" meeting with the president yesterday, the commission's co-chairs -- Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) -- said "Congress should not even consider" the proposal to allow near elderly persons to buy into Medicare "until after the panel completes its report next March" (Goldreich, 3/6). Breaux said, "Difficult political decisions are not enthusiastically embraced before an election, particularly when you have a commission that has been specifically charged with" exploring those issues. Calling it the "prudent thing to do," Thomas said Congress "will not move in any area of expanding Medicare until the commission reports" (Rodrigue, Dallas Morning News, 3/6).
A Rough Start
Despite the co-chairs comments, the White House continued to press for the president's Medicare expansion plan. White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said, "There is such a pressing need to get people in that age group in a position where they can get necessary health care coverage. It makes such good ... health care policy sense to allow them to buy into the Medicare system that we think there will be broad bipartisan support" (Washington Times, 3/6). NBC'S David Bloom reported that Republicans and Democrats are questioning Clinton's motivation for the plan. Bloom reported, "Republicans question to what end the White House is fighting. Even top Democrats concede the plan has little chance of passing Congress this year. And even those Democrats say that what the White House appears to be looking for is a winning political issue" in this election year ("Nightly News," 3/6).
The Washington Post reports that the Congressional Budget Office yesterday released an analysis of the president's Medicare expansion plan with spending projections "similar" to those offered by the White House. According to the CBO analysis, the expansion plan would cost $1.4 billion over five years, "a fraction of one percent of Medicare's total costs." The White House says some of those costs could be recouped by "savings it expects from efforts to curb Medicare fraud" (Goldstein, 3/6). NBC's Bloom reported that the White House is "convinced" that the near elderly plan "is a political winner." Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said, "We will continue to fight for that proposal" ("Nightly News," 3/6).
The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that the Medicare commission will begin meeting at the Capitol today. There is continued debate about "whether the commission should recommend major structural changes in Medicare, or should recommend only incremental changes now," and the Advocate reports that Breaux has not yet said what type of changes he favors. However, Breaux "implied" earlier this week that he's "in the structural-reform camp." He said that because all changes to Medicare thus far have been incremental, Medicare "is frozen in the '60s" (McKinney, 3/6).