MEDICARE REFORM: Californians Weigh In on Premium Support Plan
Policymakers in California are taking sides on Sen. John Breaux's (D-LA) premium support plan to shore up Medicare, raising concerns over the proposal's exclusion of drug benefits and the "imbalance in the amount Medicare pays HMOs" in California. The Chico Enterprise-Record reports that U.S. Rep Wally Herger (R-Chico) applauded the proposal to spur competition among plans, saying, "I love that idea. We need a way to make medicine more competitive." However, he warned that a viable proposal needs "a safety net. No one can be allowed to fall through the cracks." On the issue of providing drug benefits, Herger cautioned that government-mandated price controls will financially strain pharmaceutical companies and stifle research. "Anytime you have the federal government coming in and mandating prices, history shows you create far more problems," he said. The Enterprise-Record reports that Herger also urged lawmakers to address the imbalance in Medicare reimbursements, noting that payments are "low in much of his rural district, and as a result, HMOs are few" (Mitchell, 1/28).
Luis Artega, associate director of the Latino Issues Forum, weighed in against Breaux's plan. "Why rip apart Medicare and burden senior citizens with rising HMO premiums when the president has suggested using 15% of the budget surplus -- over $650 million -- to make Medicare solvent?" he asked. Health Access California similarly opposed the plan. Executive Director Bruce Livingston warned, "The HMO premium support plan will create an income-based Medicare program, with income and asset tests, more bureaucracy and annually rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Seniors and persons with disabilities will storm Congress when they get wind of this" (1/27). See story No. 8 for other reactions to Breaux's plan.