The House Ways and Means Committee late yesterday passed a $400 billion bill to add a drug benefit to Medicare and boost payments to rural providers. Under the bill, which the committee approved 25-15, hospitals overall would receive an annual payment update 0.4 percentage points below inflation through 2006. In 2007, they would receive a full inflationary update. Rural providers would receive an additional $27.2 billion in payments over 10 years under an amendment sponsored by Reps. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.). The House bill would introduce competition between private managed-care plans and traditional Medicare starting in 2010; some Democrats attempted to remove the provision but were unsuccessful. The physician lobby applauded the House for including a Medicare payment increase for doctors--1.5% in 2004 and in 2005. Currently physicians are scheduled for a 4.2% payment cut in 2004. The Nussle-Pomeroy amendment also would give qualified physicians a 5% payment bonus for working in rural areas. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing discussions on a similar bill. The Senate Finance Committee passed its $399 billion drug bill last week, and the full Senate is debating it this week. -- by Jeff Tieman
Drug benefit, provider pay raises advance in House
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