KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Finance Panel Continues March To The Floor, Considers A Number Of Health Bill Amendments

At the end of a long day of amendments to the Finance Committee's health bill, Sen. Chuck Grassley won approval of a provision to raise rural doctor Medicare reimbursement rates. Meanwhile, other senators hope to make adjustments in the bill.

The Des Moines Register: "Iowa doctors have complained for years that the federal insurance program for the elderly pays them some of the lowest rates in the country, even though they provide some of the most effective care. In a news release Tuesday, Grassley said the payment problem has helped fuel a doctor shortage, especially in rural areas." Grassley's amendment was approved by a 23-0 committee vote.

"The amendment would order Medicare leaders to overhaul the way they measure regional differences in doctors' practice expenses, starting in 2012. As a temporary fix, it would order Medicare to put less emphasis on regional differences in employee wages and office rent when figuring doctor reimbursements starting next year" (Leys, 9/30).

The Associated Press reports the Finance Committee Tuesday also voted to restore $50 million per year in federal funding for abstinence-only sex education. "Two Democrats - Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas - joined all 10 committee Republicans in voting 'yes' on the measure by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. The measure would still have to pass the full House and Senate" (9/30).

The Salt Lake Tribune: "The amendment was approved over the objections of the committee's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who offered his own amendment that would create a program that would teach about abstinence, contraceptives and life skills, such as financial literacy. Baucus's amendment -- with a price tag of $50 million annually -- also was approved by the committee" (Canham, 9/29).

In the meantime,  McClatchy Newspapers reports that Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida has offered a series of amendments: "One of Nelson's amendments, which would preserve some Medicare coverage critics would like to scale back, could come up for a vote this week, though it faces significant resistance." McClatchy says Nelson's "aggressiveness follows criticism from Democratic activists that Nelson spent his summer trying to sidestep the debate. ... A spokesman for Nelson said he had waited for committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus to deliver legislation to the committee - the last of five House and Senate panels to take up healthcare reform" (Clark, 9/29).

Meanwhile, a provision in the Baucus' bill that exempts the hospital industry from a cost-cutting measure is the subject of discussion, CongressDaily reports: "Baucus' mark creates a commission that would make recommendations to stem the growth of Medicare spending, most likely affecting payment rates, and would go into effect unless Congress blocks them. Hospitals would be exempt from the commission's ax, according to committee staff and hospital representatives, because they already negotiated a cost-cutting agreement with Baucus and the White House. … A committee aide and a spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association reiterated that hospitals received a pass based on the $155 billion cost-cutting deal already in place" (Edney, 9/30).

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