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Medicare Legislation Receives Mixed Reviews

posted on November 21, 2003

At week's end, the GOP leadership in the Senate was vowing to bring the bill back for a vote intact. But there also was speculation the Republicans would take the weekend to consider removing the parts of the bill most objectionable to its opponents.

Some of those critics claim election year cycles played a major role in the writing of the energy bill. They point out that energy industries that have invested millions of dollars in lawmakers' campaigns would reap billions of dollars in tax breaks under the bill. Indeed, more than $50 million contributed to politicians by energy-related industries since 2001 went to the GOP.

It's fair to say that rural constituencies often don't have that sort of financial wherewithal. They have to rely instead on convincing lawmakers of their cause, as they tried to do this week on another major legislative overhaul facing Congress.


Medicare Legislation Receives Mixed Reviews

Backers of a $400 (B) billion dollar Medicare prescription drug bill appealed to lawmakers this week to support the House-Senate compromise bill because it also contains $25 (B) billion dollars in increased reimbursements for rural hospitals and doctors.

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley is Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and also sat on the Medicare bill conference committee. He told Market To Market last month that portions of the bill were crucial to the survival of the rural health care system.

Senator Charles Grassley, (R) Iowa: "The whole purpose is because we do have difficult times maintaining our hospitals in rural Iowa. We have difficult times recruiting doctors toward those hospitals or just generally in rural America. And this isn't just an Iowa problem. This is a problem probably in 30 or our 50 states. Probably the 30 states are below the national average in reimbursement and I believe that this package must pass to make that recruitment easier."

To help Grassley push for passage, he had help from some big guns outside the Capitol.

Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary: "I represented the Administration at the table the entire way."

The Secretary of Health and Human Services made appearances pushing the Administration's message.

Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary: "It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to deny seniors these savings. Second major reason, this legislation provides our seniors with more choices in their health care."

AARP television commercial: "For years, AARP has worked with Congress."

From within the Beltway, came another pro-passage message. AARP, the largest advocacy organization for seniors, launched a $7 (M) million dollar television ad campaign.

AARP television commercial: "This is a good opportunity that will be gone if not approved this year."

While AARP acknowledged the bill was not perfect, there was strong opposition by some to not accept any of the "bad" with the "good".

Prominent Democrats, like Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Tom Daschle of South Dakota, didn't like what they considered generous provisions for pharmaceutical companies and private insurers. But supporters argued the private sector plans would deliver better health care more cheaply, curtailing the cost of Medicare over time.

Private firms would administer the drug benefit on a regional basis. There would be an interim drug discount card available until 2006, when a permanent drug plan would be in place. The legislation would mark the largest single expansion of Medicare since the program's creation in 1965.


Tags: Congress drugs finance government health care Medicare news rural