Senior Groups Upset Over Senate Consideration of Medicare Provider Giveback Bill
Consumer advocates are "furious" with senators for considering legislation that would increase Medicare provider reimbursement rates after the Senate in July rejected several Medicare prescription drug benefit proposals, the New York Times reports. Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), said they expect to pass legislation this year that would increase Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and HMOs to offset payment cuts to those groups. Daschle added that he was "skeptical and very pessimistic" that the Senate would pass a drug benefit by the end of the year. Medicare reimbursement for physicians was reduced 5.4% in January, and doctors face similar cuts in each of the next two years. Without new legislation, payments to home health care agencies will be cut an additional 4.9% on Oct. 1, and payments to nursing homes will be cut an additional 10%. Provider groups are lobbying the Senate to increase payments by $28 billion over 10 years. Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that, in addition to creating a prescription drug benefit, would increase provider reimbursement rates by $14 billion over 10 years.
But the Times reports that providers are, "in effect, competing ... for the same pot of Medicare money" as beneficiaries seeking a drug benefit. John Rother, policy director of AARP, which supported several of the failed drug benefit efforts in July, said, "I'm not saying there's no legitimacy in claims of some provider groups, but Medicare beneficiaries have been waiting a very long time [for drug coverage], and their needs are urgent." Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that legislation increasing provider reimbursement rates could "be the vehicle for another attempt to get a prescription drug benefit through Congress," adding that Medicare drug coverage is "absolutely imperative." President Bush said creating a drug benefit is his "top priority" and should take precedence over provider rate increases, the Times reports. Baucus added, "It would be awkward, to say the least, to help hospitals and doctors and not help the beneficiaries" (Pear, New York Times, 9/8).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.