Some Democrats who appeared today at a U.S. House hearing on Medicaid reform said the hearing should have been postponed.[@@]

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, scheduled the hearing before Hurricane Katrina struck. Committee members had ample opportunity to ask for a delay, Barton said.

But several Democrats used references to Katrina in attacks on the main proposal being debated, which they said would cut $10 billion from Medicaid benefits.

Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., said the benefit cuts would have an effect comparable to the effect of the failure to reinforce the levees in New Orleans.

“People will die if we cut $10 billion from Medicaid,” Schakowsky said. “Let’s improve it, let’s not cut it.”

Frank Keating, president of the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, appeared at the hearing to promote H.R. 3511, a bill that would promote expansion of the long term care partnership program.

Expanding the partnership program to all states could conserve Medicaid assets by expanding private LTC penetration rates and reducing middle-income consumers’ reliance on Medicaid LTC benefits, advocates say.

The program, now offered for legislative reasons only in California, Connecticut, Indiana and New York, encourages consumers to buy private long term care insurance. One incentive lets qualified private insureds keep more of their personal assets if they end up needing Medicaid LTC benefits because they exhaust their private LTC benefits.