The Senate Finance Committee is preparing a bill that would give sole community hospitals a full-inflation update in Medicare payments and set the update for other hospitals at one-fourth of a percentage point less than inflation, consistent with the terms of a House bill passed this summer, an aide said. In addition, the Senate Medicare "giveback" bill would keep the adjustment in indirect medical-education payments at 6.5% in fiscal 2003 and 2004 before allowing it to drop to 6% in 2005. Under current law, the adjustment, now at 6.5%, is scheduled to fall to 5.5% in 2003 and beyond. The bill also would include help for rural and small urban hospitals, and like the House version, eliminate a scheduled 15% reduction in home-health payments. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) are working out the bill's details; it is expected to be introduced late this week or early next week.
In other legislative news, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a patient safety bill similar to legislation that previously cleared the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would create a national medical errors reporting system to aggregate voluntary, confidential reports of medical errors. Unlike the Ways and Means bill, the Energy and Commerce version would establish grants to help physicians and hospitals acquire technology to reduce medical errors, a committee aide said. The two versions will be reconciled as a single bill for the full House. -- by Jeff Tieman