The Senate passed a $2.36 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2005 and confirmed Mark McClellan as the next CMS administrator. The Senate budget plan would maintain some rural health funding that President Bush's budget proposal would trim and would spare Medicaid, at least temporarily, from up to $11 billion in federal funding cuts contained in an earlier version of the Senate plan. The House Budget Committee is expected to complete its fiscal 2005 budget blueprint March 17 and send it to the full House sometime next week for debate. A spokesman for the House committee said Medicaid funding is not being targeted for reductions. However, House leadership has told the House Energy and Commerce Committee to cut $2.5 billion over five years from programs under its jurisdiction, which include Medicaid.
Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed McClellan in a voice vote and without formal debate after senators holding up the confirmation agreed to let it proceed provided McClellan testified on drug reimportation before a Senate panel. McClellan, now Food and Drug Administration commissioner, will be the first CMS administrator who is both a physician and an economist. He succeeds Tom Scully, who left the agency in December 2003 to join a private law firm. At deadline, a CMS spokesman did not know when McClellan would officially start his new job. -- by Jeff Tieman