Democrats Weary Of Health Changes, Mull New Health Bills, ‘Doc Fix’
The Hill: Democrats are feeling health care "fatigue" and are doubting that Congress will consider any more health-related legislation this year. "Measures in jeopardy include bills that would require more information on healthcare prices, empower federal regulators to sign off on premium increases and strip insurers of their exemption from anti-trust laws."
Democrats prefer instead to focus on vote-getting measures such as job-creation bills. Congress could tackle "popular health measures that aren't tied to reforming the nation's health system, however. These include food-safety legislation, enhanced Medicaid funding for states and a freeze on scheduled Medicare payment cuts for doctors." Doctors are in line for a 21 percent drop in payment from Medicare if Congress does nothing (Pecquet, 5/14).
CongressDaily: The Medicare payment fix could go to the House floor next week "but it appeared to be staggering toward that goal line. The first obstacle is probably the concerns about spending from Blue Dogs such as [Rep. Collin ] Peterson [D-Minn.], who are wary about unoffset money for Medicare payments, unemployment insurance, Medicaid funding for states and COBRA health subsidies for laid-off workers. The concern is not universal, as some Blue Dogs like Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., acknowledge that a five-year, $89 billion physician payment fix, for instance, was part of a deal he and others negotiated as part of the pay/go law enacted in February." Even if the House passes the bill, some Senate Democrats there want the fix to be paid for before offering their support (Cohn, 5/14).
The Hill, in a separate story: "The [Medicare payment] cuts are scheduled to go into effect next month if Congress does not take any action, and lobbyists say they've heard lawmakers might not fix the problem for more than seven months in the tax extenders package currently under discussion. Lawmakers failed to permanently overhaul the Medicare payment system in the health reform bill and have already had to pass three short-term 'patches' this year to prevent the cuts. ... Under budgetary 'pay-go' rules, lawmakers could prevent the mandated cuts for up to five years without offsetting the $88.5 billion tag, but some members are worried deficit-wary voters could make them pay a steep price at the polls" (Pecquet, 5/13).
In other news, lawmakers are pushing a separate bill "to set up an authority within HHS to review health insurance premium rates and deny increases deemed unreasonable," CongressDaily reports in a separate story. "Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., used a conference call Thursday to rail against insurance company premium increases and push their legislation to set up an authority within HHS to review health insurance premium rates and deny increases deemed unreasonable. Feinstein said it was a possibility the language could be added to legislation extending tax breaks and unemployment benefits expected on the House floor next week. But Feinstein said she was unsure if the bill could get 60 votes in the Senate, especially because Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said he would not support it" (McCarthy, 5/14).
The Washington Post: Federal workers could soon be allowed to cover their adult children under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, like others, beginning Sept. 23. "The FEHBP Dependent Coverage Extension Act, introduced by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) on Tuesday, moves up, by about three months, the time that federal employees would be allowed to have those children included in their health insurance policies. Currently, adult children are pushed off most FEHBP policies when they turn 22. If approved, the legislation would take effect Sept. 23. According to Mikulski's office, if an adult child isn't covered at that time, his or her parents would have to wait until the FEHBP open enrollment period, which probably will be in November and December, to obtain coverage for the dependent. Adult children turning 23 on Sept. 23 or after, could continue with the coverage they had" (Davidson, 5/14).