Senate Rejects Amendment To Strip Proposed Medicare Cuts From Senate Health Bill

The Washington Post: "Senate Republicans lost their first major challenge to a Democratic plan to overhaul the health-care system, as the chamber voted Thursday to reject a GOP proposal to strip the package of nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts, its most important source of financing." The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and rejected 58 to 42, "was the most potentially damaging [to the bill]. Medicare, the government health program for people age 65 and older, is hugely popular, and seniors are already skeptical about the benefits of reform." If passed, the amendment would have sent the entire bill back to committee "with orders to remove spending cuts" thereby forcing "Democrats back to the drawing board." Democratic Senators Ben Nelson (Neb.) and James Webb (Va.) joined with all 40 Republicans to vote for the amendment (Montgomery, 12/4).

Bloomberg: "'These are not attainable cuts without eventually rationing health care in America and rationing health care for our senior citizens who have earned these benefits,' said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee." McCain's amendment tried to scale back cuts to the tune of $118 billion in Medicare Advantage, where private insurers "offer about 11 million senior-citizen enrollees benefits such as dental or vision coverage not offered by the government program" (Litvan and Jensen, 12/3).

The Associated Press: But Democrats fought back. "'Our bill does nothing to reduce guaranteed Medicare benefits,' said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as several fellow Democrats accused Republican critics of making false claims of potential harm during three days of debate." The cuts were endorsed by several groups, largest among them was the powerful senior lobby AARP. Meanwhile, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "Medicare is already in trouble. The program needs to be fixed, not raided to create another new government program" (Espo, 12/3).

Dow Jones Newswires/CNNMoney: "Democrats contend that the Medicare Advantage plans are overpaid by the federal government and are therefore able to offer their enrollees fringe benefits that aren't included in the traditional 'fee-for-service' Medicare plan administered by the government" (Yoest, 12/3).

The Denver Post reports that another amendment was proposed by Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, that "was meant to imply that the Republicans were fudging the numbers. His amendment spelled out that Medicare's guaranteed benefits will remain intact, something many in the party said was already implicit in the bill. It passed 100-0" (Riley, 12/3).

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