Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) Introduces Bill To Cancel Medicare Physician Payment Cut
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) yesterday introduced a bill that would cancel a scheduled 4.4% reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians, CongressDaily/AM reports (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 1/8). Bush administration officials on Dec. 20 announced that Medicare reimbursements for physicians will decrease 4.4% on March 1. Administration officials said that a problem in the Medicare reimbursement formula prompted the scheduled reduction at a time when physician expenses have increased. The current formula bases reimbursements on Medicare enrollment and economic growth, as well as other factors (Pear, New York Times, 12/21/02). According to physicians, the scheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians resulted because the federal government underestimated both the rate of economic growth in the late 1990s and the number of beneficiaries enrolled in the fee-for-service program (California Healthline, 10/25/02).
The House approved a bill at the end of the last congressional session that would have canceled the scheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians and would have extended unemployment insurance benefits, but the Senate did not consider similar legislation. The bill that Thomas introduced yesterday would use the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations recently published by a federal agency, to cancel the scheduled reduction. A House Ways and Means Committee spokesperson said that the legislation would "cost substantially less" than the House-passed bill, which would have cost an estimated $43 billion over 10 years. However, Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has said he would prefer to pass legislation that addresses a number of Medicare reimbursement issues, not only reimbursements for physicians. A Grassley spokesperson said that the senator favors a bill that would "address the needs of doctors and hospitals and other providers simultaneously," although he could support a "short-term fix for all providers," CongressDaily/AM reports.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats yesterday introduced two health care bills. The first bill, called the "Prescription Drug Benefit and Cost Containment Act," would add outpatient prescription drug coverage to Medicare. Under the legislation, Medicare beneficiaries could pay a $25 monthly premium and no deductible for "continuous coverage with reasonable cost-sharing." Medicare would cover annual prescription drug costs for beneficiaries that exceeded $3,700. The bill also includes Senate-passed legislation that would allow brand-name pharmaceutical companies to receive only one 30-month patent extension per product, rather than multiple patent extensions. The bill also would codify the FDA pediatric rule, which allows the agency to study the effects of treatments on children. A federal court invalidated the rule last fall. The second bill, called the "Health Care Coverage Expansion and Quality Improvement Act," includes several health care provisions that failed to pass in past congressional sessions. The bill would allow the CHIP program to cover parents, pregnant women and documented immigrants. In addition, the bill would provide tax credits to small businesses that offer health insurance to employees. The legislation also includes mental health parity and patients' rights provisions (CongressDaily/AM, 1/8).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.