Deep Medicare cuts expected as Senate fails to rally support

Doctors throughout the country already limit the number of Medicare enrollees they treat because of low reimbursements. Short of a miracle, the cuts likely to go into effect next week will further limit Medicare recipients' access to care. As expected, a Senate bill to block a 10.6 percent cut in clinicians Medicare reimbursements was unable to get the support it needed yesterday. A procedural vote failed to get the 60 votes necessary for the bill to move ahead. Senator John McCain didn't vote on the bill; Senator Barak Obama voted in favor.

The proposed bill would have cut federal subsidies to Medicare Advantage--the controversial privately managed version of Medicare as an alternative to cutting doctors' reimbursements.  President Bush opposes the bill in part because of the Medicare Advantage cuts.  

Humana, United Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield carriers that offer Medicare Advantage have aggressively lobbied against the bill to protect their subsidies. If the bill is defeated, in addition to cuts in doctors' reimbursements, pharmacies will also suffer. Thousands of independent pharmacies will likely go out of business, particularly those located in low income urban and rural areas that serve a high percentage of Medicare enrollees. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, said: "Who supports this bill? Doctors, consumer groups, pharmacists, hospitals. Who opposes this bill? The health insurance industry and the White House." Earlier this week, the House version of the bill passed easily with a resounding 355 to 59 votes.

For more info:
- see the New York Times story
- also see The Wall Street Journal story