Senate Working on Legislation To Increase Funding for Medicare Providers
Several senators have begun working "behind the scenes" on legislation that would provide more than $30 billion to increase funding to Medicare providers, CongressDaily/AM reports. A spokesperson for Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday said, "Certainly no one is giving up on the issue of prescription drugs, but it is going to be tough. Meanwhile, we will be working on the issue of Medicare givebacks." According to CongressDaily/AM, the Senate bill is expected to be similar to the Medicare package (HR 4954) the House passed in June. That bill would provide approximately $14 billion to hospitals, including $9 billion to rural facilities over 10 years, and would reverse scheduled cuts in payments to physicians and home health care providers. In addition, it would allocate $3 billion to insurers that offer Medicare+Choice plans. CongressDaily/AM reports that the Senate package will likely be "more generous" in its allocation to rural providers. Baucus said last week that he hoped the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee could mark up a Medicare package "in the next few weeks." Senate aides and lobbyists maintain it will be "all but impossible" to propose such a bill and avoid debate over a prescription drug benefit. "Democrats may find themselves in the awkward position of trying to look for assurances that Republicans won't add a drug benefit for seniors," a health lobbyist said (Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 9/10).
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats on Monday "issued a challenge" to the House to pass legislation that would allow the reimportation of U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and ease market entry of generic drugs, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) said he would "plead" with and "pressure" members of the House to pass a bill similar to a measure (S 812) that the Senate approved in July. Such legislation "is critically important to seniors," Wellstone said, adding, "It's important to all citizens." An estimate by the Congressional Budget Office found that such legislation could reduce consumer drug spending by as much as $60 billion over the next 10 years. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) said that he supports such legislation, but he added that he hoped senators' "emphasis on generics and reimportation" is not a "smokescreen" to cover the fact that the Senate failed to pass a Medicare drug benefit (Ford, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/10).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.