Health plans that win a competitive bidding process under a revamped Medicare managed-care program might gain 20% to 30% in reimbursements under a plan being negotiated by House-Senate conferees, CMS Administrator Tom Scully said. Under the plan, 2006 is the first year Medicare reform would take hold. The increased reimbursement would include a 15% to 18% add-on payment for prescription drugs, as well as higher overall reimbursement, Scully said. Speaking at a conference of the American Association of Health Plans-Health Insurance Association of America, Scully also said that "there is a very strong likelihood" Congress will step in to reverse a scheduled 4.2% cut in Medicare physician payments this fiscal year.
In other Washington news, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a broad initiative to expand minorities' access to healthcare and recruit more minorities into healthcare careers. The group, which includes Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), expects to introduce legislation next week. The measures would give states the option to cover uninsured parents who have children eligible for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, expand current efforts to recruit and train underrepresented minorities in all health professions and establish "Health Empowerment Zones." The latter program would identify communities that are underserved by healthcare providers and have relevant departments develop community wellness programs. No estimates of the cost of the programs have been made and there are no Republican co-sponsors. -- by Todd Sloane