The Senate Medicare reform bill would cost $422 billion over 10 years and the House bill $408 billion, according to figures that the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release later today. In response, Reps. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Billy Tauzin (R-La.), co-chairs of the House delegation negotiating a compromise bill with the Senate, pledged to keep the cost of the conference committee's proposal under the $400 billion agreed upon in Congress' budget resolution. The CBO also is expected to estimate the cost of each element of the bills, including provider payment provisions, a Senate Finance Committee aide said. The estimate for the Senate bill doesn't account for the more rigorous monitoring of pharmacy benefit managers that it would require. The House estimate doesn't cover provisions for health savings accounts, expected to cost the federal government $175 billion over 10 years, the aide said. Lawmakers began meeting this week on a compromise bill, but one isn't expected until at least September.
Meanwhile, an analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute projected that 2% to 9% of retirees with corporate-sponsored health coverage would lose that coverage if a Medicare drug benefit were enacted. An earlier CBO estimate said 37% of retirees with such coverage would lose it. However, EBRI noted in its report to the Senate Finance Committee that "no one knows with any certainty" what the real impact would be. -- by Jeff Tieman