GOP Lawmakers Suggest Medicare Reforms

Republicans on a prominent House committee proposed a series of Medicare reforms Thursday, including the much-discussed possibility of unifying the program’s deductibles for hospital and medical care.

Committee vice chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) described the policies as short-term moves that would significantly strengthen the program without cutting benefits.

“The current Medicare program structure is unsustainable and will threaten current beneficiaries’ health security if not addressed,” the lawmakers wrote in a memo.

“We believe the best long-term solution is to allow for increased plan options in the Medicare program that provide seniors the Medicare benefit they receive today, while reducing costs and improving the quality of care.”

The House GOP’s premium-support proposal was noticeably absent from the document, which focused on reforming Medicare’s physician payment formula, introducing a catastrophic cap on out-of-pocket expenses, and increasing means-testing within the program.

Blackburn and Ellmers also vowed to oppose any further proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage, push for tort reform, and fight waste, fraud and abuse.

Their proposal was released shortly after the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health met to discuss possible changes to Medicare’s benefit structure.

Several members were friendly to the idea of streamlining the program by combining its Parts A and B deductibles, and lamented the current structure as confusing for beneficiaries.

“The only part of our healthcare system that has not evolved since Medicare’s inception is Medicare’s fee-for-service benefit design itself,” said subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).

“We don’t give our seniors 1960s medical care — in many cases that would be considered malpractice today — so why do we continue to give them a 1960s insurance product?”

Glenn Hackbarth, chairman of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, said the decision to restructure the deductibles should be left to the federal Health secretary.

“The argument for a combined deductible is that it’s simpler and it’s more in keeping with the basic principles of insurance,” he said in witness testimony.

“The downside is the impact on beneficiaries who use only Part B services in any given year. They would have a higher deductible than the current one.”

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April 11th, 2013