Several House Republicans Say That GOP Medicare Reform Package ‘Not Generous Enough’
Several House Republicans have come out against the party's Medicare reform package, contesting that House GOP leaders' plan to cut Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers and saying that the proposed Medicare drug benefit is not generous enough, the New York Times reports. The objections have forced the leadership to revise their plan, and passage is now expected after Memorial Day, rather than before, as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) predicted when the package was unveiled on May 1. Some House Republicans say the GOP's Medicare drug benefit proposal would leave a "big gap" in coverage, as seniors would have to cover 100% of their annual costs from $2,000 to $5,000. But the greatest point of contention centers around a plan to reduce hospital inflation updates, which currently stand at 3% a year, by one-half of a percentage point each year from 2004 to 2007, saving $5 billion over five years. In a letter to Hastert, 10 House Republicans from New York wrote, "New York's health care providers can no longer sustain Medicare payment reductions without cutting back on the level of care they deliver to our communities." Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) added, "Many hospitals are already providing services at or below cost. Cut payments any further, and we'll have a mass exodus of providers from Medicare." GOP leaders say they are following the advice of the Bush administration, which suggested in March that Congress boost Medicare payments to doctors by reducing payments to hospitals. The administration's position that any increase in Medicare payments to providers be offset by decreases to other providers has touched off a "fierce election-year battle among lobbyists for" various providers, including doctors and hospitals, the Times reports. Members agree that doctors "appear to have the strongest case" for receiving an increase, as their payments are scheduled to drop a total of 17% from 2002 to 2005. But the Republican dissenters say they do not want to vote to reduce hospital funding in an election year (Pear, New York Times, 5/13).
Meanwhile, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) used the Democratic radio address on Saturday to criticize the GOP Medicare drug benefit proposal as inadequate. "The Republican plan simply isn't good enough. Under the plan, a senior who pays $5,000 a year for prescription drugs would have to foot 86% of the bill. That's hardly better than no plan at all," Carnahan said. Stabenow said that Americans should be able to buy prescription drugs from Canada, where medications cost 60% less on average. "These drugs meet all FDA requirements for manufacturing, safety and purity. Opening our borders would give American consumers steep and immediate price reductions," she said (AP/Nando Times, 5/11).
In related news, Stabenow and Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) are leading an effort by several senators to urge the drug industry not to back a television ad campaign to promote the House GOP Medicare package (Fulton, CongressDaily, 5/10). Last week, the United Seniors Association announced it will run a $3 million campaign in 12 cities. While the organization's president said the funding for the campaign was not directly supplied by the drug industry, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American confirmed that PhRMA recently gave the association an "unrestricted educational grant" of an undisclosed amount (California Healthline, 5/9). In a letter to the industry, Stabenow and Dayton wrote, "We respectfully urge you to redirect these funds and devote them to lowering the price of prescription drugs to all Americans, especially our nation's seniors. We think this would be a much better use of your profits." A coalition of labor groups said they planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the campaign. "The prescription drug industry has funded a phony front group and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy off Congress and confuse the public," William McNary, president of USAction, said (CongressDaily, 5/10).
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that "[u]nfilled promises to shore up Social Security and add a prescription drug benefit under Medicare are slowly turning into hot political issues that Democrats plan to use in this year's congressional election campaigns." Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.) have proposed a Medicare drug bill that calls for the government to pay 50% of annual drug costs up to $4,000 and 100% above that, with seniors paying a $25 monthly premium and no deductible. The "more limited" House Republican plan calls for a roughly $37 premium and a $250 annual deductible. Miller said it is time for Congress to move beyond talking about a benefit and approve one by the August recess. "Anything short of that will be failure and those who fail on this issue should be dealt with accordingly on election day, regardless of party," he said (Gibson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/12).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.