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Drug Benefit, Uninsured on Ways And Means Agenda

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

January 18, 2007 -- Oversight of the Medicare drug benefit, health savings accounts, and the adequacy of the budget and staffing for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are all priorities this Congress for the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

In a letter sent Wednesday to chairmen of the House Government Reform and House Administration committees, the bipartisan leadership of the Ways and Means panel laid out their priorities for the full committee and subcommittees.

"We will be rolling up our sleeves and working in a bipartisan fashion to deal with the challenges facing America," Chairman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and ranking member Jim McCrery, R-La., said in a news release. "There will be times when we cannot agree with each other, but we hope to work together whenever we can and disagree respectfully when we don't."

Other issues to come before the panel's health subcommittee include the relationship between Medicare payment policy and workforce issues, adequacy of program benefits, and competitive bidding for durable medical equipment.

Drug pricing within the Medicare prescription drug program is another area for review, as is "creating a Medicare-sponsored drug option; and negotiated price mechanisms," the letter states.

Oversight of the Medicare "trigger"—the point at which federal revenues will account for 45 percent of Medicare spending, now projected to be 2012—is on the list, as is oversight of CMS, including "the adequacy of its budget and staffing, contracting activities, and general agency accountability." The panel also expects to review health coverage and the uninsured, including children, early retirees, and small business employees and review options to expand coverage.

Separately, the Ways and Means Oversight Committee plans to continue its review of tax-exempt organizations and how recently enacted tax provisions affect those organizations' ability to serve their communities. The panel also plans to "evaluate overall IRS efforts to monitor tax-exempt organization activities, prevent abuse, and ensure timely information to the public about charity activities and finances," the letter states.

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