Healthcare lobbyists are gearing up for the budget battle that will take place when the House and Senate work to reconcile their proposals for funding government programs in 2004.
The Senate passed a budget resolution that would set aside $400 billion over 10 years for Medicare reform, including a prescription drug benefit, much like the resolution agreed to in the House.
Medicaid, however, faces two very different futures under each chamber's proposal. The Senate's $2.2 trillion budget resolution, which passed by a vote of 56-44 and includes a $350 billion tax cut, would provide $50 billion over 10 years to help the uninsured and $3.3 billion in 2004 to reform Medicaid.
The House proposal, which passed earlier this month, would cut taxes by $725 billion over 10 years and slash Medicaid by $93 billion in that period. Led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a group of 79 senators sent a letter to Budget Committee leaders urging them not to allow the House's proposed Medicaid cuts to stand.
Lobbyists said they hope to eliminate those cuts in the House- Senate conference committee that will negotiate a single budget to send to President Bush.
"A lot of people are looking at Medicare and running a premature victory lap, but we've got to deal with Medicaid as well," said Herb Kuhn, vice president of advocacy at the Premier hospital alliance. Kuhn and others expect a joint committee to take up the budget "on a fast track" and complete a unified proposal before April 11, when Congress will recess.
Also on Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a Medicare regulatory reform bill that lawmakers said would enable hospitals to spend more time delivering care. The bill would generally prohibit HHS from making new regulations effective retroactively and bar the government from punishing providers for errors made based on inaccurate written guidance from government agencies or Medicare contractors.