Capitalizing on the increased scrutiny of federal spending in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, fiscal conservatives are renewing their calls on Congress to repeal or scale back the new drug benefit in Medicare. At a panel discussion hosted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Congress should repeal or delay implementation of the 2003 law (PL 108-173) that created the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The new benefit goes into effect Jan. 1.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, accused the White House of working behind the scenes to scuttle legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The legislation (S 1716), co-authored by Grassley and the finance panel's ranking Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, would allow low-income victims of Hurricane Katrina to bypass some of the usual eligibility requirements and join the Medicaid rolls.
The U.S. health care system can be made safer and more effective through the use of information technology as well as an increase in public-private sector initiatives, said panelists at a briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund. Dr. James J. Mongan, president and CEO of Boston-based Partners HealthCare System Inc., said his company has taken several steps to improve care, including using electronic medical records with a built-in clinical support team to help provide best practice and evidence-based medicine and tracking care on certain ailments against other health care systems and guidelines.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced a series of proposed regulations that would speed the use of electronic prescribing and electronic medical records nationwide. The proposals include creating exceptions to self-referral laws so that hospitals and certain health care organizations can furnish hardware, software, and related training services to physicians for electronic prescribing and electronic medical records.
Quality is up but enrollment is down at the nation's highest rated health plans, according to a report released by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Based on its ratings of 289 commercial health plans, the NCQA said performance improved on 18 of 22 clinical measures in 2004, saving thousands of lives. But the 289 plans are almost exclusively HMOs, which have steadily lost enrollment to preferred provider organizations in recent years.
A study concludes that creating a new Medicare "Part E" would eliminate the need for beneficiaries to pay more for supplemental coverage and would ease confusion over the new drug benefit. The proposal also would give employers a more affordable alternative to current retiree health plans, according to the study paid for by The Commonwealth Fund, a health care think tank. The study goes on to say the federal government would not be burdened with any additional cost because "Medicare Extra" would be financed by monthly premiums costing less than beneficiaries now pay for supplemental Medigap coverage.