Congress could begin considering Medicare reform proposals as early as next month.[@@]

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee probably will begin work on Medicare in October, in spite of all the attention that will be devoted to recovery from Hurricane Katrina, according to Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Blackburn, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, spoke here Tuesday at a conference organized by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington.

The House plans to adjourn for the first 2 weeks of October, and the Senate plans to be out during the second and third week of October. Those scheduling considerations heighten the uncertainty that Katrina has added to the congressional agenda, Blackburn said.

But the current Medicare system is a 1965 system that delivers 1965 health care, Blackburn said.

Blackburn criticized the failure of the basic Medicare program to provide preventive care, such as care that can help people with diabetes avoid serious complications.

“When the system doesn’t pay for preventative care, that is something that needs to be dealt with,” Blackburn said. “Keeping the system exactly the same is not an option.”

Blackburn also expects Congress to look at older Americans’ efforts to qualify for Medicaid nursing home benefits by transferring assets to children, charities and other beneficiaries.

Congress could extend the “look back” period, or period when Medicaid LTC claim reviewers assume that asset transfers probably were made to help people qualify for Medicaid, Blackburn said.

Lawmakers also could let states require:

- Medicaid beneficiaries with more than $500,000 in home equity to tap home equity before receiving Medicaid nursing home benefits.

- Imposition of co-payments on beneficiaries who use some types of health care.