Legislative Update For Week Ending November 4, 2011

Legislative Update For Week Ending November 4, 2011

Retiree assistance program criticized while the Super Committee held its fourth public hearing regarding the debt reduction plan.

Senator Enzi Slams HHS for Early Retiree Reinsurance Program

Amid a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Senator Mike Enzi (WY) criticized the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department for its handling of the 5 billion dollar Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.  According to the GAO, about half of the 2.7 billion dollars doled out by HHS has funded public entities.

“Rather than rewarding politically connected constituencies, the remaining funds in the insurance program for early retirees should be used to assist employers with providing insurance coverage,” Enzi said in reference to the report.  “If that proves impossible, the funds should be returned to the Treasury to reduce the federal deficit.”

The program, which was created under last year’s healthcare reform law, is intended to provide assistance to retirees who are 55 years of age yet aren’t eligible for Medicare. The GAO lists that of June 30th, government entities have received 45.5 percent of the funds, commercial organizations 36.6 percent, nonprofit groups 15.2 percent, unions 2.6 percent, and religious groups 0.1 percent.

Four Trillion Dollar Deficit Reduction Plan?

A four trillion dollar plan to reduce the deficit was unveiled in a joint debt reduction panel hearing on Tuesday.  Led by former Senator Alan Simpson (WY) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a plan that is sure to bring major overhaul to Medicare was offered to the panel.  “I have great respect for each of you individually, but collectively, I’m worried that you’re going to fail – fail the country,” Bowles said.

The four witnesses urged panel members to include ambitious spending cuts and increased revenue to reach a four trillion dollar debt reduction plan instead of the required 1.2 trillion dollar total.  Former Senator Pete Domenici (NM) boldly criticized those unwilling to commit to bold Medicare reform.  “A plan that does not fundamentally restructure Medicare and other health entitlements will fail to adequately address the debt crisis that we face,” he said.  “Both sides, those who are against any fundamental health entitlement reform and those who oppose any revenue increases will be equally complicit in bringing the nation closer to the fiscal brink.”

Physician Payment Formula Cut Less than Expected

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a 27.4 percent payment reduction to physicians beginning in 2012.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged lawmakers to avoid the “steep payment cuts” facing physicians, podiatrists, nurse practitioners and physical therapists.  “This payment rate cut would have dire consequences that should not be allowed to happen,’’ Sebelius said.  The rate cut, also known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, still falls below the projected 29.5 percent that federal officials had predicted earlier this year.