A fiscal 1999 budget resolution passed by the House Budget Committee last week calls for cutting $12.5 billion from projected Medicare payments and $2 billion from Medicaid over the next five years.
The cuts would come above the reductions made in last year's balanced-budget law, which reduced projected Medicare spending by $115 billion over five years.
The measure doesn't carry the force of law and may wind up being a political statement because neither the Senate nor the White House has expressed interest in passing legislation needed to implement the changes. To turn a budget resolution into law, a formal budget law would need to be passed and signed by the president.
The House resolution, approved in a 22-16 vote, may move to the floor as early as next week when Congress returns from its traditional Memorial Day recess.
"This budget . . . takes us right back to the kind of debates we had in 1995 and '96 that led this town to a dead-stop gridlock," White House spokes-man Michael McCurry said.
Even though the budget committee resolution appeared to have little chance of becoming law, hospital groups were working to kill the Medicare cuts. The groups said the plan set a bad precedent given the level of Medicare cuts enacted in last year's balanced-budget law.
According to House Budget Committee estimates, Medicare spending is projected to rise from about $200 billion this fiscal year to nearly $250 billion in fiscal 2002.
The Senate passed its own budget measure in March, which didn't include any of the Medicare reductions called for in the House plan. Should the House measure win approval, the two chambers would meet to reconcile the differences between the bills.
Of the $12.5 billion in Medicare cuts called for in the House bill, about $10 billion would come from providers, with the remainder taken from the Medicare administrative budget.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) introduced an amendment to strip the $10 billion in provider reductions, but it was defeated by a party-line vote of 22-18 with all 18 Democrats voting for the measure.
One Democratic amendment the committee accepted was offered by Rep. Robert Weygand (D-R.I.). The amendment called for unspecified changes to the current home health Medicare reimbursement system.
That payment formula was implemented earlier this year as a transition to a planned prospective payment system scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 1999.
Home health groups have criticized the interim system as unfair, arguing that it locks in higher payments for inefficient providers. There are several bills in the House to address the issue.