Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and William Frist (R-Tenn.) this week will reintroduce legislation that aims to transform Medicare from the nation's largest healthcare payer to a subsidy program that helps seniors buy private-sector healthcare insurance.
The two senators have led the effort to restructure the 36-year-old Medicare program, and their legislation comes as Congress appears increasingly intent on making a restructured Medicare program the price for offering a prescription-drug benefit.
The senators will introduce two separate bills echoing legislation they introduced in 1999 and 2000. Their proposals also mirror a draft Medicare reform plan released in 1999 by a national commission led by Breaux. The commission never formally approved its plan.
Under the senators' 1999 bill, Medicare would pay most of the premiums for seniors' private healthcare coverage. While Medicare fee-for-service would remain an option, private-sector plans willing to accept seniors would provide competition. Only Medicare's "high option" fee-for-service plan and certain private-sector plans would offer a prescription-drug benefit and stop-loss coverage of beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs.
The 2000 bill had less of a private-sector focus. Under that bill, Medicare would subsidize prescription-drug coverage and supplemental benefits, rather than make private health plans direct competitors for all Medicare benefits. A Breaux spokeswoman said the senators are reintroducing both bills to give Congress more choice.