As the Senate Finance Committee deliberated its Medicare reform bill, House Republicans outlined their version of reform legislation, which would add a prescription drug benefit to the program and give hospitals a 2004 payment update 0.4 percentage points below full inflation. That would amount to a 3.08% increase in Medicare payments to hospitals next year, according to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Hospital lobbyists cautioned that the House package is very preliminary and that draft legislation has yet to be released. At deadline, the finance committee was debating amendments to its bill, which would add a drug benefit to Medicare but not adjust overall hospital payment rates. While senators were optimistic that the committee would approve its bill as early as tonight, several Democrats and some Republicans on the panel expressed concerns about the breadth and cost of the proposal.
Meanwhile, the House bill would spend $15 billion over 10 years to equalize payments among rural and urban hospitals and make other unspecified changes to help rural providers. The Senate bill would spend $25 billion over 10 years on similar reforms, but Thomas said the House plan better addresses the payment inequities rural hospitals encounter. -- by Jeff Tieman