Debate continues on the Senate floor on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 (H.R.3590), and the focus continues to be on Medicare and Medicare Advantage. While proposing spending cuts in one program to create another, the Senate leadership is claiming that all of these Medicare cuts are possible without cutting benefits or services in current Medicare programs, such as Medicare Advantage and Home Health Care.
Stabenow’s Medicare Advantage Amendment. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed an amendment which would ensure that spending reductions to the Medicare Advantage program would not result in a reduction or elimination in benefits that enrollees would receive. Sen. Stabenow’s amendment passed 97-1.
This amendment is a curious, as well as popular. Its popularity may reflect the substance of the legislation. The reason: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) bill includes $118.1 billion in cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. It’s hard to imagine how cuts of this magnitude would not affect benefits for enrollees of the program — now more than one in five seniors. Examining similar provisions in the giant House-passed bill, the Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said comparable spending cuts to Medicare Advantage would “reduce MA rebates to plans and thereby result in less generous benefit packages.”
The Hatch Amendment on Medicare Advantage Cuts. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) made a motion to commit the bill to the Senate Finance Committee to remove Medicare spending cuts, which would have guaranteed Sen. Stabenow’s promise to protect the Medicare Advantage program. Sen. Hatch’s amendment failed with a vote of 41-57.
The Kerry Amendment on Home Health. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) offered an amendment that the Senate bill would guarantee home health benefits that Medicare enrollees receive under title XVIII of the Social Security Act. The Kerry Amendment to guarantee these benefits was very popular. It passed 96-0.
The Johanns Amendment on Home Health. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) then offered a motion to commit the bill to the Senate Finance Committee to remove spending cuts to the same home health benefits that Sen. Kerry’s amendment seeks to preserve. The health care bill currently contains $42.1 billion in cuts to home health benefits over ten years. Sen. Johann’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 41-53.
Whitehouse Amendment to Preserve Social Security. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) offered an amendment to ensure that surpluses created by the health care bill in the Social Security trust fund and savings generated by the CLASS Act would be reserved for Social Security and the CLASS program, respectively. The Senate voted to preserve savings from these programs 98-0.
It is worth noting that the Senate bill delays spending until after revenue collection begins. In examining the CLASS Act provisions, the Congressional Budget Office says, “…the program’s cash flows would show net receipts for a number of years, followed by net outlays in subsequent decades.”
Thune Amendment on Entitlement Spending. Senator John Thune (R-SD) proposed an amendment which would remove the CLASS act altogether in order to eliminate new entitlement spending and limit government control over health care. Thune warned that Congress should not be creating more problems like those inherent in Medicare, which, like the CLASS Act, was also intended to be fiscally self-reliant on premiums and revenues collected by users of the program. Sen. Thune’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 51-47.
Kathryn Nix currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm