Rx DRUG BENEFIT: Competes with Restored BBA Funds
While seniors are lobbying Congress to provide prescription drug relief, hospitals, nursing homes and other care providers also are lobbying lawmakers to restore Medicare funding cuts by 1997's Balanced Budget Amendment -- causing the two groups to fight for the same $40 billion over the next five years that Congress has designated for Medicare reform, the New York Times reports. Lawmakers have argued that if they provide more money for care providers, "there would be less money for outpatient drug benefits for the elderly." Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said, "It's a zero-sum game. The money all has to come out of the same pot."
Both the elderly and care provider groups have been lobbying hard for a share of the funds. Tricia Smith, AARP's chief federal health lobbyist, said the situation is "a very real conflict," adding, "Congress is seriously considering giving more money back to providers, but still hasn't given one penny to prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries. That's a serious problem." Should Congress fail to approve drug benefits this year, providers hope to move in on that money. Lobbyist Frederick Graefe said, "Most observers believe that if a Medicare drug benefit is enacted this year, it would soak up all the $40 billion, so there wouldn't be anything left for providers. Most observers also believe that a drug benefit won't be enacted this year, despite the good intentions of both parties. There will be a stalemate." But Thomas Scully, president of the Federation of American Health Systems, representing about 1,700 for-profit hospitals, said that because seniors vote, "drug benefits have a higher political priority," adding, "We are worried." Linda Keegan, spokesperson for the American Health Care Association, representing 12,000 nursing homes, said, "It's so attractive to offer new prescription drug benefits. But if Congress does that, it may be at the cost of existing benefits. You have to do first things first -- take care of existing benefits before you start adding new ones" (Pear, 5/15).