Democratic and Republican lawmakers laid out conflicting long-term markers for healthcare spending on Capitol Hill last week as policymakers continue to battle over the federal deficit and government spending.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, offered a draft budget that was largely based on the deficit-reduction commission appointed by President Barack Obama. The measure was significant as the first Senate Democratic budget in four years and in its use of billions of dollars worth of healthcare policy changes to reduce federal spending, increase tax revenue and reduce the federal deficit by $5.4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Conrad touted the budget primarily as a way to reduce federal deficits over the coming 10 years and used a series of healthcare cuts to achieve that, including an acceleration of the hospital rate-cutting authority of the controversial Independent Payment Advisory Board and cutting Medicare payments for hospital bad debt and medical education.
However, the budget also included federal health policy changes sought by provider groups, including elimination of a 2% cut in Medicare provider payments planned for the start of 2013 as part of the deficit-reduction deal struck last summer. Also, Conrad's budget would scrap the Medicare physician payment formula, which is slated to implement a 32% cut in January unless overridden by Congress.