Democratic Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois offered legislation that they hope will help move Congress out of its stalemate on medical liability overhaul. Their bill would provide liability protections for physicians who disclose medical errors to patients and would encourage early settlement before litigation is pursued. It also would encourage physicians to apologize for errors—with the aim of reducing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits and forcing physicians to learn from their mistakes, Clinton said.
Lawmakers pressed ahead with more efforts to aid victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, clearing legislation that would give assistance to people with disabilities and sparring with the Bush administration over the broader question of providing health care for displaced residents. At a hearing on Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts that included testimony from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, members of the Senate Finance Committee continued to knock the administration for opposing their legislation (S 1716) to expand Medicaid to cover low-income residents of the Gulf Coast region affected by the hurricanes.
Expanding Medicaid may be one of most important tools lawmakers could use to recover from economic recession, according to a report for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The report comes as Hill lawmakers are scrambling to fund Katrina relief and debating a $10 billion reduction in the growth of Medicaid spending as part of the budget reconciliation process.
Federal officials announced that all beneficiaries in traditional Medicare will have access to prescription drug plans that fill the so-called "doughnut hole" in coverage—one of the most criticized aspects of the prescription drug benefit offered under the Medicare overhaul law. The overhaul law (PL 108-173) passed by Congress in 2003 left a gap in drug coverage in which beneficiaries pay 100 percent of prescription costs after they exceed a certain level of out-of-pocket spending and before protection kicks in against catastrophic drug expenses.
Despite continuing uncertainty about whether Congress will act in coming weeks to block scheduled Medicare physician payment cuts, the Medicare program itself is moving ahead administratively with plans to overhaul the troubled physician reimbursement system. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan said at a House hearing that his agency is setting up the "infrastructure" to allow doctors to voluntarily report data next year on the quality of care they provide.