Medicare Fees, Plans For Independent Board Scrutinized

Details emerge about Medicare payments, including scrutiny of a lab fee and a proposed Medicare panel, while Medicare drug premiums are expected to rise.

The New York Times reports on resistance to Obama's proposal to create a Medicare panel called the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission: "So far, Mr. Obama's proposal has been welcomed by health economists and fiscal hawks eager to reduce the federal budget deficit and slow the growth of Medicare. But the proposal has received a cool reception in Congress. Many lawmakers say Mr. Obama's proposal would take away their power to set Medicare payment policies, which may involve, for example, steering extra payments to rural hospitals and teaching hospitals. Doctors and hospital executives are lobbying against the plan, fearful that the new agency would cut their Medicare payments" (Pear, 8/13).

The Wall Street Journal / Dow Jones report on scrutiny of a proposal to add a lab fee for Medicare payments: "A proposal under consideration by a Senate panel to impose a co-pay fee for common medical lab procedures has aroused protest from laboratory industry groups and the nation's top seniors' group, which argue that it would amount to a cut in Medicare services. The groups say that the Senate Finance Committee is discussing a proposal to raise $23 billion to help pay for a broad health-care legislation through a 20% co-insurance fee for laboratory procedures undergone by Medicare beneficiaries."

The article notes that though the co-pay would be small -- as low as $2 for some tests under the co-pay proposal -- some "laboratory companies suggest the co-payments would also be expensive to collect from patients ... A July 31 letter signed by more than two dozen companies and groups, including divisions of Roche Holding AG (RHHBY) and Siemens AG (SI), as well as Quest Diagnostics Inc. (DGX), sounded alarms about the proposal that cite its effect on Medicare beneficiaries" (Yoest, 8/13).

In a separate piece, Wall Street Journal reports on rising Medicare drug premiums: "The federal agency that manages Medicare said most beneficiaries under the federal health-care program for the elderly and disabled would see a small increase in their drug-plan premiums next year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday said seniors would on average pay $30 a month for stand-alone drug plans, up $2 from this year" (Zhang, 8/13).

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