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Bush Set to Propose Sweeping Changes in Medicare

  • January 3rd, 2003

President Bush will propose sweeping, long-term changes in the Medicare program later this month as part of his proposal for providing a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, according to an article in the New York Times.

The changes he wants are intended to promote competition in Medicare and could eventually make Medicare look more like private insurance. The idea is to make Medicare beneficiaries more conscious of costs. Under one idea favored by many of the president''s advisers, the government would give Medicare beneficiaries incentives to enroll in more efficient, less costly private health plans rather than stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

Under another proposal, Medicare would offer enhanced benefits, including a cap on out-of-pocket costs, perhaps in return for higher premiums.

The elevation of Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) to Senate majority leader is seen as enhancing the prospect that the proposals would be taken seriously on Capitol Hill. Still, persuading Congress to enact major changes in the structure of Medicare, beyond the addition of drug benefits, will be an uphill struggle for Bush. Elderly voters want drug benefits as soon as possible, but are not clamoring for "Medicare reform."

'If the price of a prescription drug benefit is the end of Medicare as we know it, that''s not a price worth paying," said Debbie Curtis, chief of staff to Representative Pete Stark (D-CA).

Vicki Gottlich, a lawyer at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said that one favored proposal 'could shift costs to individual beneficiaries so that people with the greatest medical needs pay the most for their health care."

About 85 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are in the fee-for-service program. Many private health plans have dropped out, saying Medicare pays too little to cover their costs.

To read the entire article in the New York Times, click on www.nytimes.com/2003/01/03/politics/03MEDI.html (Free registration required and article may be only temporarily available.)

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Last Modified: 01/03/2003

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