Thompson Defends Bush Medicare Budget Plan in Congress
Facing criticism from many lawmakers, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson at a Senate Budget Committee hearing yesterday defended the Bush administration's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal to provide $190 billion for Medicare reform, including a prescription drug benefit, CongressDaily reports. Several members of Congress have called the measure "inadequate," noting that they set aside $300 billion for Medicare reform last year. Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said that the administration's budget "underestimat[ed]" the cost of Medicare growth and offered "inadequate prescription drug coverage" (Fulton, CongressDaily, 2/14). Based on HHS projections, Bush's budget predicts that under existing Medicare law, spending for the program will grow 73% in the next 10 years to $3 trillion, even though enrollment figures will increase beginning in 2011 and 2012 when the baby boom generation becomes eligible for coverage. The Congressional Budget Office, however, estimates that Medicare spending will double in the next decade under current policy to $3.3 trillion (California Healthline, 2/6). Noting that the administration's estimates for Medicare growth are $300 billion less than estimates from the CBO, Conrad said, "Somebody in the administration has cooked the books and cooked them good." Defending the administration's proposal, Thompson said that Medicare usage levels are stabilizing. He also said that the CBO estimates did not factor in prospective payment cuts for physicians, another issue Thompson defended yesterday (see story #99).
Thompson also responded to criticism from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) about funding for bioterrorism preparedness, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 2/14). In December, Byrd, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pushed for an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would have allocated about $4 billion for bioterrorism prevention and protection of the food supply (California Healthline, 12/6/01). The amendment failed, and yesterday Byrd "chastised" the administration for not pushing for the funding, saying it "would have been available by now." Thompson, however, said that HHS is currently distributing funds that were earmarked in supplemental appropriation bills to the states for improving the public health network (CongressDaily, 2/14).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.