2009-12-09 / Seniors

Senate Cuts Medicare In Early Vote On Healthcare Reform

In the first major tests of President Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation in the Senate, Democrats had the votes to approve $460 billion in Medicare cuts to help pay for the new proposed healthcare program, and also to pass preventive health care for women.

United States Senator John McCain led the Republican attempt to block the Medicare cuts, arguing it would reduce coverage for seniors.

But Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who led the effort to reduce Medicare coverage, said after the successful 58-42 vote: “Our bill does nothing to reduce guaranteed Medicare benefits.”

The move was supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the national senior advocacy group. The approved bill by the entire Senate would slow the growth of Medicare spending without hurting beneficiaries, Obama and other Democrats said.

In fact, they said, the bill would improve benefits and add five years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.

The Medicare cuts, the Democrats said, would be achieved by trimming payments to hospitals, nursing homes, private Medicare Advantage plans and many other healthcare providers.

But Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, argued: “Medicare is still in trouble. The program needs to be fixed, not raided to create another new government program.”

But trumping the Republicans’ arguments that Medicare was being raided to help fund the proposed new healthcare coverage for 30 million Americans, the Democrats proposed an amendment which makes it clear that guaranteed Medicare benefits would not be taken away as a result of the legislation.

Republicans joined the Democrats in voting in favor of the amendment, and it passed 100 to 0.

On the other key Democratic victory in the early stages of the Senate debate, the Senate voted 61 to 39 to require health insurance companies to provide free mammograms and other preventive services to women.

In leading the effort to guarantee preventive health services for women, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–Maryland) declared that her amendment to the proposed health reform legislation would “eliminate one of the major barriers to care by getting rid of high co-payments and deductibles”.

She added: “It does not tell women, ‘You will have a mammogram at 40.’ It says, ‘You will have access to that mammogram if you and your doctor decide it’s medically necessary or medically appropriate’.”

The passage of these two bills by the Democrats in the Senate does not get them home free on the entire healthcare reform package.

Still ahead is the sticky fight over including a government insurance program to compete with private companies.

LONG TERM CARE IN REFORM PACKAGE: Although the Medicare cuts and the women’s care issues hogged most of the attention in the Senate’s consideration of the mammoth healthcare reform legislation last week, the Democrats in the upper house were also successful in including a long-term care insurance program in the main bill.

Under its provisions, seniors could qualify for cash benefits if they become severely disabled after voluntarily paying premiums into the healthcare program for five years.

The objective of the benefit provision would be to have funding available for the disabled person to use the cash to pay for things that help people to maintain their independence. This could include alterations to a home or housing modifications, special telephone and computer equipment or for caregiver services.

Senator Tom Harkin (D–Iowa), speaking in favor of the program, explained: “This is the next logical step after the Americans With Disabilities Act.” He said the program would give so many people with security and peace of mind that they wouldn’t be forced to go to a nursing home if they became disabled.

Republicans opposing the program said it would create one more huge liability to be covered by federal funding in the future. Some Democrats joined in the opposition, and the bill was defeated 51- 47 in a very close vote. But under a special rule previously adopted by the Senate requiring a 60-vote threshold to pass a bill, the legislation was approved.

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2018 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.