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Medicare reform, the Democrats' way

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Hoping to contrast sharply with the Republican plan to cut Medicare to help alleviate the deficit, the head of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Kent Conrad, is set to unveil a budget that would cut Medicare only modestly and then only to pay for a multi-year “doctors’ fix” which would stave off scheduled cuts in physician reimbursements.

Conrad declined to specify where cuts would be made as that responsibility falls to the Finance Committee. It is estimated that a one-year doctors’ fix would cost $15 billion, while ten-year fix would run $300 billion.

Senate Democrats plan to pursue the savings that President Obama identified in a recent speech at George Washington University. There Obama called for the eradication of wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments, harnessing Medicare’s leveraging power to negotiate lower prices, rushing generic drugs to the market to reduce out-of-pocket costs and assembling an independent commission of medical experts to root out waste in the system.

Earlier this year, Sen. Al Franken proposed legislation that would give the government the right to negotiate drug prices and has argued that this right is crucial in the battle to curb health care spending. Some Democrats would also like to focus cuts on Part B of the program, which helps beneficiaries pay for physician services, outpatient care and home care.