Short Takes On News & Events

3 Hill Panels Examining Changes To Medicare

By Mary Agnes Carey

February 25th, 2013, 5:46 AM

Updated at 12:10 p.m.

With $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday and predictions of economic disruption, much of official Washington is focused on the “blame game.” Publicly, there has been no sign that Congress or administration officials has made any progress on averting these cuts or finding common ground on tackling the country’s fiscal problems.

Photo by Karl Eisenhower/KHN

But there are small signs that Democrats and Republicans are beginning to wrestle with the issue of what role Medicare should play in deficit reduction. Three Capitol Hill committees with jurisdiction over health care have scheduled hearings this week to examine Medicare’s current benefit design and to review provisions in the 2010 health care law aimed at making the program more efficient.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said the “biggest driver” of the nation’s long term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population.  “And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations,” he said.

The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s Tuesday hearing will focus on Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program “and consider ideas to update and improve the benefit structure to better meet the needs of current and future beneficiaries,” according to a news release.

Subcommittee chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the hearing would help the panel “investigate the limitations, inefficiencies and inadequacies of traditional Medicare’s cost-sharing structure and identify ways to bring the Medicare program in to the 21st Century.”

That hearing follows a speech earlier this month, in which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., signaled a new GOP strategy  on Medicare. He called for several changes to fee-for-service Medicare, which provides coverage to about three-quarters of the 49 million Medicare beneficiaries. “We should begin by ending the arbitrary division between Part A, the hospital program, and Part B, the doctor services,” Cantor said. “We can create reasonable and predictable levels of out-of-pocket expenses without forcing seniors to rely on Medigap plans.”

The Senate Aging Committe will also explore some options to bolster Medicare’s financing without reducing benefits and will look at public sentiments about the program.

On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is convening a hearing to examine programs in the health law designed to make Medicare and Medicaid more efficient and affordable. The law includes provisions that shift payment to the quality – rather than the quantity – of care delivered. The law also encourages hospitals and doctors to cut readmission rates “by making sure early treatments are effective and by reducing preventable adverse events like infections that often result in a second, costly hospital stay,” according to a news release.

The panel will get a progress report from Jonathan Blum, the acting principal deputy administrator and director of the Center of Medicare, a division of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation.

7 Responses to “3 Hill Panels Examining Changes To Medicare”

  1. Tammy A. says:

    I agree with the President’s assessment of healthcare costs becoming an ever expanding burden on the American debt crisis. Healthcare in America is 17.6% of our GDP which simply means 17.6 cents of every U.S. dollar are spent on healthcare. In addition, the number of Americans reaching Medicare age is outpacing the number of our working –age citizens. Therefore, declining tax revenue cannot sustain the exorbitant expense of plans like Medicare and Medicaid. Healthcare reform must be addressed. As mentioned, several cost cutting measures are under review by Congressional committees. The fee-for-service model covers treatment for an existing illness when cost savings can only be realized if we focus on wellness and health promotion. Adding to the cost are patient readmissions occurring within one month of discharge. These readmissions stem from inadequately educating the patient regarding activity level, medications and follow up or occur due to medical complications such as infection. Such readmissions add 17 billion dollars to healthcare costs annually. By replacing inefficient reimbursement methods, promoting wellness and providing adequate education to our patient population, healthcare savings can be realized but Democrats and Republicans must work together. Politics aside, we must focus on the physical health of all Americans and the economic health of our country.

  2. PAUL A. says:

    we olders have put billions into Medicare. we business owners have put in billions on top of that. now we hear whining about the cost. to suddenly start reducing medicare payments to providers means, as in Florida, less providers. this can be smoothed out over time.

    it comes down to this: less money means more rationing. period. that is why long-term thinking must be the template.

  3. The problems of Medicare are the problems of healthcare in general. Waste takes many forms; however, inappropriate procedures by doctors, either on their own initiative or at patients’ insistence, consume a huge portion of our healthcare dollars. A significant portion of the solution lies in establishing protocols and limiting procedures when not called for according to strong statistical evidence and best practices.

  4. Jeff says:

    Tammy a: You are swallowing rhe koolaid. Lol
    Im a doctor… It is intellectually dishonest or ignorance of economics to think that prevention/wellness will solve all our problems. It is also ignorant( in the nicest of terms) to think cutting waste and changing reimbursement can be done in name if quality and all will be well, RATIONING is hgat all these middlemen heavy plans accomplish… Numerous studies show it diesnt save money to do prevention. Do you think peopke will necer die?
    If people live longer will they not break more bones, get more colds, etc.
    The total omission of studies that show opposite of what organized med/politucians want to hear is only becayse they cannot and will not say we have to ration care. Demographics is clear….way more pathology than money…public and ignorant docs especially, still fall fir sane ole thing… Specialists/ procedures are evil…we can do better…ha, have get up in middle of night abd take care if trauma, etc,etc
    Whole discussion is dishonest

  5. steve says:




  6. Joe says:

    Sorry steve he is a doctor. He is too busy trying to see patients and cover his overhead on the limited dollars that Medicare and Medicaid provide now to spend time correcting his posts. Nice of you to do it for him.

  7. Bill says:

    Ever see the episode on 60 minutes titled, The Cost of Dying? Excellent piece on the waste of Medicare dollars. I highly recomend that our leaders in Washington watch and learn.