O’Neill Says Medicare Part A Funds Could Pay Other Costs
Speaking before a joint hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill yesterday did not "repeat promises" made last week by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson that the Bush administration would use the $526 billion Medicare Part A surplus "only on Medicare Part A," CongressDaily reports. O'Neill "parried" claims from Democrats that Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut "would threaten the financial viability" of Medicare. Responding to a question on the use of the Part A surplus, O'Neill said that the "funds earmarked for Part A would be recorded as such" and that "the money will be there for beneficiaries when they present themselves for services, without a doubt." He added, however, that money "not needed immediately for Medicare could be used for other purposes," saying, "When funds flow into the federal treasury, they don't have names on them" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/20). Last week, Thompson said that all payroll tax revenue collected for the Part A hospital trust fund would be "used exclusively" on Medicare Part A. His statement came after Democrats criticized a suggestion by President Bush that the surplus from the Part A trust fund was part of a "contingency fund" that could be used on programs other than Medicare. Yesterday, Democrats continued their strategy of saying that Bush's budget plan "would exacerbate Medicare's problems." Speaking at a breakfast meeting, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said the president's "numbers don't add up," adding that by 2005 Bush will be "$11 billion in deficit unless [the administration] use[s] the Medicare [Part A] money" (CongressDaily, 3/20).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.