Senate Democrats Weigh in on Medicare Spending During Debt Discussions
On Monday, Senate Democrats attempted to take a strong stance against cutting Medicare as part of a fiscal year 2012 budget package, while remaining open to addressing the program's burgeoning costs, Roll Call reports.
Early in the day, five Democratic senators sent a sent a letter to Vice President Biden urging him to take Medicare off the table in the bipartisan budget and deficit negotiations that he is leading (Dennis, Roll Call, 6/7).
Earlier this year, the House approved a GOP fiscal year 2012 budget resolution (H Con Res 34) that includes a Medicare overhaul proposal.
The proposal -- developed by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- would alter Medicare from a fee-for-service program to one that would have beneficiaries purchase coverage on the private market (California Healthline, 5/24).
In their letter to Biden, the five Democratic senators -- Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ben Cardin (Md.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), all of whom are up for re-election next year -- asked the vice president to pledge his commitment to leaving Medicare unchanged during his group's negotiations (Jackson, AP/Miami Herald, 6/6).
"For the good of the nation's seniors, [the House plan] must remain off the table," the senators wrote, adding, "Our nation's seniors are not responsible for the fiscal challenges we face, and they should not be responsible for shouldering the burden of reducing our deficits" (Roll Call, 6/7).
Democrats Offer Strategies To Rein in Medicare Cost Growth
In a follow-up media conference call, Brown, Cardin and Schumer acknowledged that a deal to address Medicare spending growth could be reached, but only "as long as [the deal] doesn't reduce benefits to the beneficiary" (Dennis, Roll Call, 6/6).
The lawmakers also offered possible strategies that potentially could generate as much as $100 billion each in savings. They said they could accept proposals that would:
- Change Medicare to shift so-called dual-eligible beneficiaries from the program into Medicaid, which would require states to cover portions of the cost of their care;
- Facilitate negotiations with drugmakers to reduce costs of medications (Daly, Modern Healthcare, 6/6); or
- Expand the provision in the federal health reform law that determines health care providers' payments based on outcomes rather than procedures.
Schumer said, "We're taking the inefficiencies and wringing them out of the system." However, he reiterated that although his party is willing to reach a budget deal with Republicans that controls Medicare spending, Democrats will not agree to any proposal that resembles the House Medicare overhaul plan (Roll Call, 6/6).
GOP Lawmakers Identify Conditions for Debt-Limit Increase Deal
In a letter sent on Monday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), 103 House Republicans set conditions by which they would accept a deal with Democrats on legislation to increase the federal debt ceiling.
The letter stated that any bill to increase the debt-limit also should have discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that equal half the budget deficit in FY 2012 and spending caps at 18% of the gross domestic product. However, a Republican aide insisted that the conditions in the letter were not absolute (Bolton, The Hill, 6/7).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.