National Republican Congressional Committee Criticizes Families USA Education Campaign for New Medicare Law
The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday charged that Families USA is "advocating Democratic talking points against" the new Medicare law in its 10-week "Medicare Road Show," CongressDaily reports. Through the campaign, Families USA will visit 20 cities across the United States and aims to educate seniors about changes in Medicare, according to CongressDaily. In a statement Monday, NRCC said Families USA "is on a mission to trash the new Medicare law and is using Democrat misinformation to scare seniors." An NRCC spokesperson said, "We're being very aggressive on a number of fronts right now, and Medicare is certainly a priority. We are going to continue to take action pre-emptively and, if we see the distribution of misinformation, reactively. It's an election year." He added that NRCC wants to "ensure that everyone who hears Families USA's message understands the group's liberal-leaning background," CongressDaily reports. NRCC said that Families USA is "contributing to the messaging efforts of congressional Democrats by helping spread their rhetoric about the new Medicare law." Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack on Monday said that NRCC's claim is "absolutely wrong," adding that his group differs from Democrats on a several issues. "If we wanted to be partisan, we would have focused on other issues, like how this bill pushes us toward privatized care, or how people who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare are going to be worse off. But we're not talking about that," Pollack said. "My challenge to the NRCC is to name a single inaccuracy in our materials. ... Their complaint is that Families USA refuses to whitewash a highly flawed Medicare law, and that we're providing more objective information than the tax-financed, 30-second political ads [for the new law] run by the Bush administration," Pollack added (Patton, CongressDaily, 3/1).
A number of large U.S. companies in recent weeks have announced that they will collectively save more than $2.5 billion over time from a provision in the new Medicare law that allows the federal government to provide subsidies to employers offering prescription drug benefits to retirees, the Wall Street Journal reports. The subsidies were created by lawmakers to encourage companies already offering prescription drug coverage to retirees to maintain those benefits. Companies will not actually receive the subsidies until 2006, but accounting rules allow them to estimate the value of the subsidies over the lives of their current and future retirees and then use that amount to reduce their liabilities, which could boost earnings for this year. Under the accounting rules, BellSouth has estimated it will save $572 million, AMR's American Airlines $415 million, Deere $300 million to $400 million, Alcoa $190 million, U.S. Steel $450 million and Delphi $500 million. Jeff Battcher, a spokesperson for BellSouth, said the 2004 financial impact of the Medicare subsidy might change as accounting rules to consider the effects of the bill fluctuate. He added that the savings are "nice" but "not that great compared to the total obligation" (Francis, Wall Street Journal, 3/2).
The New York Times on Tuesday examined the challenges facing lawmakers as they confront "looming" financial problems for Medicare and Social Security (Andrews, New York Times, 3/2). During a House Budget Committee hearing last week, Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan warned that the federal government "has promised more retirement benefits than it can pay for" and to "avoid damaging the economy in the future," it must consider reducing spending on entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. With baby boomers beginning to retire, spending in the Medicare hospital trust fund is projected to exceed payroll tax revenues beginning in 2013 (California Healthline, 2/26). Congressional and Bush administration analysts say that the "flood of retiring baby boomers" will cause federal spending on retiree benefits to eventually account for as much of the nation's economy as the entire federal budget does currently, according to the Times. "It is time to start telling people the truth," Laurence Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University, said, adding, "Suggesting that some minor adjustments to Social Security will solve the problem is doing a disservice." Medicare's financial situation is even "more ominous" than that for Social Security because medical costs are rising far faster than the overall rate of inflation and the demand for health care is expected to increase as baby boomers retire, the Times reports. Regardless of how "precarious and uncertain" long-range forecasts are, experts agree that the "challenges of Social Security and Medicare are too big to be addressed without politically painful remedies," according to the Times (New York Times, 3/2).
CongressDaily on Monday interviewed House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the "most unusual" Medicare vote last November. In a "wide-ranging interview," Blunt examined the "difficulty -- and ultimate success" -- of Republican leaders' efforts to keep the roll call vote open for three hours on Nov. 22, while working to gather support for the Medicare bill, according to CongressDaily. Ultimately, the bill passed 220-215 after several Republicans and Democrats switched their votes from "no" to "yes" (Wegner, CongressDaily, 3/1).
The "eye-popping bad math" that raised cost estimates for implementation of the Medicare law from $395 billion to $534 billion over 10 years should push legislators to consider how the United States can "persist in providing such piecemeal benefits for one age group when costs threaten everyone's health security," health care journalist Irene Wielawski writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. As passed, the law is "disappointingly short on measures to control the underlying drivers of cost, such as technology and the inappropriate use of medical services," Wielawski writes, noting that a $50 million measure to fund cost-containment research "failed to make it through the appropriations process." The Bush administration and Congress should "fine-tune the Medicare law into a true instrument of reform" by incorporating research on cost, quality and appropriate use, Wielawski writes, concluding that focusing on cost containment and quality of care would "brin[g] the country a step closer to affordable health care for all" (Wielawski, Los Angeles Times, 3/2).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.