Nickles Blocks Senate Floor Vote on Medicare Provider ‘Giveback’ Legislation
Senate Democrats on Friday failed to obtain unanimous consent to move a $43 billion Medicare provider "giveback" bill to the floor after Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) objected to the motion, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 10/4). The 10-year, $43 billion bill, sponsored by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), includes smaller reimbursement reductions than planned for hospitals and increases for rural physicians, hospitals and home health care agencies. Medicare+Choice plans would receive an increase in reimbursements of 4% in 2003 and 3% in 2004 under the legislation. The bill also would reverse the expiration of $1.7 billion in temporary Medicare reimbursements for nursing homes that expired Oct. 1. In addition, the legislation would expand a pilot program that uses competitive bidding for durable medical equipment nationwide. The bill also includes a provision that would allow Medicare to cover immunosuppressive treatments for organ transplants and would renew a five-year program that helps low-income seniors cover the cost of Medicare premiums. The legislation includes a two-year delay of reimbursement caps for physical and occupational therapy and would expand coverage of cholesterol and lipid level tests. The bill also includes additional funds for state Medicaid and CHIP programs (California Healthline, 10/3). Baucus and Grassley invoked a Senate rule to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and move the bill directly to the floor for a vote, a motion that requires unanimous consent. Nickles objected to the motion, saying that he hoped to adjust the rural hospital wage index and reform the outpatient reimbursement system (CongressDaily, 10/4). In addition, Nickles said that the Finance Committee had not considered the bill and that some committee members, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), hoped to add a prescription drug benefit. "I may be willing to come back with a counteroffer in the not-too-distant future," Nickles said, adding, "I would like to see us do something in this area this year. It's not too late" (CQ Daily Monitor Midday Update, 10/4). Baucus, however, said that the "issue is urgent" because some provider reimbursement reductions that the bill would address have taken effect. "Oct. 1 has come and gone, and that means there's a 15% home health care (cut) provision ... that we have to address," he said (CongressDaily, 10/4).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.