Thompson Gets ‘Earful’ on Medicare from House Committee
The House Budget Committee gave HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson "an earful" yesterday about President Bush's budget proposals for Medicare, CongressDaily reports. Thompson was "challenged" by committee Chair Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) on the administration's proposal to put the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund surplus into a "contingency fund" that would allow it to be spent on other programs. Nussle said that "there has been a high degree of angst associated with" the contingency fund, and asked Thompson if the Bush administration would support a budget that placed the Medicare Part A surplus "in a different place," such as the "lockbox" approved by the House last week. Thompson "tried to head off the debate" by saying that "as the president said last week ... every penny of Medicare funds will be used for Medicare, period." He added that the administration "does not believe [a lockbox] is necessary, but if Congress feels that is the way to go, we will support it" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/7). Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee told Thompson Tuesday that they were "outrage[d]" about the administration's plan to put the Medicare Part A surplus in the contingency fund.
Committee Democrats "pressed" Thompson to explain how the administration plans to keep Medicare solvent when it proposes spending $153 billion of the program's surplus on modernization and adding a prescription drug benefit (CongressDaily, 3/7). Thompson said that Bush's plans to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare "would not jeopardize the program's future," adding that the president's budget would "keep Medicare in good financial health." He said that extra money generated by the program would be used to make it "more efficient" (Los Angeles Times, 3/8). Thompson said that the administration is still working on its long-term Medicare reform plan (CongressDaily, 3/7).