This Monday the Senate voted on two amendments that determined whether savings from Medicare will be used to enhance the solvency of the financially troubled Medicare program or be used to finance new government health programs and additional spending. Once again, the lesson for taxpayers is clear: Pay no attention to Senate rhetoric on health policy. Pay close attention to Senate action.
Gregg Amendment on Medicare Solvency: Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) offered an amendment that would have required any new spending or revenue reductions stemming from the Senate health care bill to be fully offset by other savings before being enacted. Both the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary would have to certify savings before spending could begin.
Sen. Gregg’s amendment would ensure that any savings from Medicare or Social Security would have to be applied back to those programs.
Gregg’s amendment highlights the issues raised by Senator Michael Bennett’s (D-CO) amendment, which passed early last week. Sen. Bennett’s amendment required savings from Medicare to increase the solvency of Medicare—it did not, however, require all savings from Medicare to be applied to the solvency of Medicare.
Gregg’s amendment would have clarified the policy that all savings from Medicare would be used to enhance Medicare solvency. Sen. Gregg’s amendment failed by a vote of 43-56.
Pryor Amendment on Patient Feedback in Health Care: Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) introduced an amendment to create an online enrollee satisfaction survey system as part of the new federally designed health exchange that would exist in the states. This would allow enrollees to evaluate qualified health plans in the exchange, as long as the plan enrolled more than 500 participants. It would make it easy to compare enrollee satisfaction levels between comparable plans. Sen. Pryor’s amendment was agreed to with a vote of 98-0.
It should be noted that health plans that are qualified to compete in the exchange will have to meet extensive requirements both at the state and federal level. This means that most plans will not differ much from one to another. Without a wide variety of choice and competition between health plans, the right to choose the benefits and medical procedures that one wants or needs, “consumer satisfaction” information means less than it would in a free market system, where consumers, not government officials, make all the key decisions in the system.
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