The Senate at press time on June 26 was debating whether to accept earlier legislation passed by the House with a veto-proof margin which would slash the Medicare Advantage program by $13.8 billion over 5 years and codify substantive restrictions on Medicare marketing, including a greater state role.
The issue for the Senate was whether to accept the House bill or delay a decision until Congress returns to work from its July 4th recess on July 7. Congress was scheduled to recess on June 27.
The Senate is under pressure because unless Congress acts, physicians’ pay under Medicare will be cut 10.6% as of July 1 under existing legislation.
Congress is working on the bills in order to forestall the cuts in physicians’ pay as well as grant the physicians’ modest pay increases over the next 18 months.
If no deal is reached before the recess, Congress could act retroactively when it returns to reverse the cuts.
The bill passed by the House incorporates cuts to the Medicare Advantage program proposed under legislation recently introduced by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on behalf of Senate Democrats.
Baucus wrote his bill after talks with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking minority member of that committee, on a compromise bill. To counter Baucus’ bill, Grassley introduced legislation that proposed cuts of $9.9 billion in the Medicare Advantage program.
But, both bills codify the restrictions on marketing of MA plans, and earlier last week Baucus and Grassley were working on a compromise aimed at winning enough votes to overcome a filibuster threatened by Senate Republicans and a veto of the House bill the Bush administration reiterated in a position paper released after the House vote.
But, Baucus said that, “Tuesday’s [June 24] overwhelming House vote makes clear that the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act can be that bipartisan vehicle, and just in time.”
Industry lobbyists and congressional staffers said Baucus needed 2 more votes at press time to clear the House bill for Senate passage.
The cuts and the codification of provisions imposing strong restrictions on marketing of Medicare Advantage programs are both opposed by industry, which wrote letters to key members of Congress outlining their concerns.