Negotiations over a streamlined Medicare bill have broken down over how to pay for it, according to Senate leaders, with the White House leaning on GOP members to shield private Medicare plans from cuts.
Its clear to me that were not going to get an agreement in time to meet the deadlines, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), referring to a loose mid-June deadline that lawmakers were trying to reach.
Baucus said that he would draft a bill that has the right policies and priorities for Medicare beneficiaries. Included in that, he said, would be an 18-month physician pay patch and a slight increase in reimbursement. The bill likely will also include electronic prescription provisions, an extension of expiring rural health provisions, preventive health measures and a slate of Medicare Advantage marketing and sales reforms.
Republicans split with Democratic members over how to pay for the legislative package, Baucus said, which could run $15 billion to $20 billion. Baucus said he would rely heavily on cuts to private Medicare fee-for-service plans to offset the cost of the legislation. The Bush administration has routinely protected the controversial program from lawmakers looking for ways to pay for legislation, a stance Baucus called a White House stonewall. This wrinkle could push any bill into mid-Juneprecariously close to the July 1 date when physicians will start to see a 10% cut to their reimbursement rates. -- by Matthew DoBias