Medicare plan has $21 billion increase. President Bush said Medicare spending would increase $21 billion in 2002 under his budget proposal due to be delivered to Congress this week. Under current law, the Congressional Budget Office has projected a $14 billion increase in Medicare spending. Speaking to reporters at the White House last week, Bush did not specify where the increased spending would occur. However, he has proposed adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare.
House committees begin hearings. The Medicare reform debate begins again on Capitol Hill this week when two powerful House subcommittees launch a series of hearings on HCFA and Medicare. Testifying Feb. 28 at a House Ways and Means health subcommittee hearing will be Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), one of the leading proponents of privatizing Medicare. Breaux two years ago led a commission that proposed having Medicare subsidize seniors' premiums for private-sector health insurance.
HCFA to get government review. Separately, the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans a "top-to-bottom" review of HCFA operations aimed at revising regulations deemed anticonsumer because they keep patients from needed care or require excessive paperwork from providers. In a Feb. 15 letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) said the committee will look for ways to modernize HCFA's infrastructure and improve delivery of care in Medicare, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Programs.
HHS nurse studies ordered. Bills introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) direct HHS to study mortality rates of Medicare patients when nurse anesthetists are supervised by physicians, compared with when they are only required to practice in "collaboration" with physicians. On Jan. 18, HHS issued the change to Medicare's conditions of participation that allowed nurse anesthetists to practice without physician supervision where state law permits, and it was scheduled to take effect on March 19. In late January, however, President Bush postponed enforcement of the change.