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Medicaid Asset Transfer Provision Lands In Senate Footnotes

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It’s hard to know what will really happen on the floor of the Senate the rest of this week, but the Senate says on its Web site that it still expects to continue debate of S. 1932, a major budget bill, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.[@@]

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., surprised Senate Republicans today by forcing the Senate into a closed session in connection with concerns about Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader William Frist, R-Tenn., appeared on television to blast the Democrats.

It’s unclear how the turmoil will affect debate on the Senate floor about S. 1932.

One bill provision of interest to insurers, Section 6011, could encourage the purchase of private long term care insurance, by discouraging efforts by older Americans to qualify for Medicaid nursing home benefits for the poor by using special designed financial instruments.

Another provision, Section 6012, would make the Long Term Care Partnership program, which is now available only in California, Connecticut, Indiana and New York, available throughout the United States.

The partnership programs now in effect encourage the purchase of private LTC insurance by giving insureds who use up private benefits some ability to protect assets before qualifying for Medicaid nursing home benefits.

Other sections of the bill would increase defined benefit pension plans’ Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premiums and tinker with the revamped Medicare Advantage managed care plan program.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke today on the Senate floor in defense of S. 1932 sections that would cut billions of dollars in “regional stabilization” funding over 5 years. Grassley said the cuts were announced in 2003.

President Bush has threatened to veto S. 1932 if it cuts the Medicare Advantage stabilization funds, which are supposed to encourage private insurers to offer Medicare plans in rural areas. Grassley and others argue that the Medicare Advantage programs seems to be doing well and that insurers do not seem to need the stabilization funds.

Grassley also referred very briefly to long term care.

S. 1932 “provides new options for private coverage of long term care coverage through the long term care partnerships,” Grassley said, according to a version of his remarks that appears in the Congressional Record.

Grassley left all discussion of the effort to limit Medicaid asset-shifting out of the speech he delivered on the floor.

Grassley had his comments about the Medicaid asset transfer provision, which is projected to save $335 million over 5 years, tagged onto the end of the Congressional Record version of his remarks.

The provision would require states to count certain assets, such as some oddly designed notes, loans and annuities, when deciding whether residents were eligible for Medicaid nursing home benefits.

The proposed change also would require states to treat annuities the same way that trusts are treated under current law, Grassley says.

Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., rose to speak against S. 1932, but he focused mainly on proposed cuts on Medicaid spending and proposed authorization for funding for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and criticism of a Republican strategy to use $35 billion in attempted budget cuts to offset only a potion of $70 billion in proposed tax cuts. Corzine did not mention the LTC partnership or Medicaid asset transfer provisions.