Senators Warn Medicare Bill May Be in Jeopardy Because of Disagreements
As a conference committee continues to work on reconciling the House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1), a group of senators, mostly made up of Democrats, on Thursday warned that they would block passage of a final Medicare bill if the version reported by the committee does not meet certain conditions, the Wall Street Journal reports. In a letter released at a news conference yesterday, 41 lawmakers -- including 39 Senate Democrats, Sen. Olympia Snow (R-Maine) and Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) -- said that a final Medicare bill should not include a House-passed provision calling for health savings accounts for all individuals or any limits on Medicare spending. A final bill should include provisions that would encourage employers to maintain retiree drug coverage should a Medicare drug benefit be implemented; that would help speed market entry of generic medications; and that would provide subsidies to low-income Medicare beneficiaries, according to the letter. The senators signing the letter called on President Bush to intervene in negotiations to help reconcile differences between Republicans and Democrats and pass a bipartisan bill. "The president can solve this problem," Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 10/24). Many Democrats also have said that they are being largely left out of the negotiating process, noting that Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the conference committee's chair, has "excluded five of the conference committee's seven Democratic members from negotiating sessions," according to the Los Angeles Times. Thomas has said he "is interested in working only with members willing to compromise," the Times reports (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 10/24). "A partisan conference report that jeopardizes Medicare and does not provide meaningful assistance to the elderly and disabled should not and will not pass," the letter says (Pear, New York Times, 10/24).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.