The time frame for the Senate to consider a package to avoid an upcoming Medicare physician pay cut may slip into late May or early June, AARP's lead healthcare lobbyist said today. Speaking at AARP's Washington office, Kirsten Sloan, head of the group's health legislative team, said the delay stems from leadership plans to first juggle delaying administration Medicaid regulations to cut state reimbursement and the Iraq war spending supplemental. As Senate and Finance Committee leaders hash out the specifics of Medicare legislation, AARP is pushing staff and senators to include sweeteners for Medicare beneficiaries, Sloan said. AARP wants senators to avoid increasing beneficiaries' premiums "as they work to delay the cut." She said, "Right now, there is no package, so everything is on the table."
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus has been weighing an 18-month patch. Legislation must be in place by the end of June when the current patch expires or physicians face a 10 percent Medicare payment cut. Sloan said the fixes have never included any provisions to help beneficiaries. This time around, AARP wants senators to reduce spending in other parts of Medicare so premiums can stay even. Areas to cut, she said, include a physicians' quality incentive fund, a Medicare stabilization fund and duplicative Medicare Advantage payments for indirect medical education. AARP wants to more than double the $12,000 asset limit per individual for low-income beneficiaries to qualify for prescription help. The asset test for a Medicare cost-sharing program for beneficiaries living below poverty is more stringent, and AARP would like the limit to be raised in line with the low-income prescription help, Sloan said. Because a package has not taken shape, Sloan was unsure of AARP's prospects of including its desires in final legislation, but she said the group will keep pushing.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.