Leaders of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare held their first meeting last week and said one of their first priorities would be to delay President Clinton's early-eligibility Medicare plan.
The plan was included in the president's fiscal 1999 budget submitted to Congress in February. It would allow some people under age 65 to buy Medicare coverage (Feb. 9, p. 57).
Members of the commission said such a plan should be considered part of its work rather than as a separate piece of Medicare legislation.
The 17-member commission, created by last year's federal balanced-budget law, is charged with coming up with a plan to ensure the solvency of the Medicare trust fund as the oldest of the baby boom generation becomes eligible for Medicare in 2010.
Ten of the 17 commissioners are members of Congress. The seven others are academics, providers, and past and present government administrators. The commission's report is due to Clinton and Congress on March 1, 1999.
Last week, members of the commission also staked out positions on such issues as giving seniors vouchers they can use to purchase private health insurance and increasing the 1.45% payroll tax that funds treatment of Medicare beneficiaries in hospitals and other institutional providers.
Although members urged that no proposal automatically would be excluded, they made clear what they would not be able to endure.
For example, Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said that although Congress now is free to consider Clinton's Medicare early eligibility plan, he wanted the commission to consider it first.
Likewise, Thomas and the commission's chairman, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), said increasing the Medicare payroll tax was not likely to receive serious consideration.