As HCFA comes under attack for its confusing Medicare billing rules and its inability to track billing abuses, a House committee last week voted to cut all funding next year for a computerized system the agency wants to help it out of the mess.
On a voice vote, the 14-member House Appropriations labor, HHS and education subcommittee last week approved a fiscal 1998 spending bill that would give HCFA $1.1 billion to spend on Medicare contractors. That figure is $89 million less than the approximately $1.2 billion President Clinton asked for in his fiscal 1998 request.
The House panel's plan would eliminate the budget for HCFA's Medicare Transaction System, a computerized claims handling system that aims to consolidate processing to a few regional centers, sources said.
The MTS program has been under attack because of mismanagement and projected cost overruns. HCFA officials believe MTS will save $200 million a year and make it easier to detect fraud and abuse.
A subcommittee aide said the panel moved to eliminate MTS due to the charges of mismanagement and high costs, as well as a need to keep spending within limits laid out in the balanced-budget blueprint reached between Clinton and Congress.
The move to cut the MTS budget came during a week in which several health-related spending bills faced congressional votes.
Before approving legislation on fiscal 1998 spending by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, the full House passed an amendment guaranteeing that the VA healthcare budget would be no lower than $17.5 billion, even if the department fails to reach third-party collections targets.
The balanced-budget package now being negotiated on Capitol Hill authorizes the VA for the first time to keep veterans' user fees and payments collected from the health insurers of veterans eligible but not entitled to care at VA hospitals and clinics. Those outside collections are expected to make the VA's total healthcare budget $17.6 billion.