The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Congress Passes Medicare Legislation Beneficial to the Delta

Posted on July 16, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Bipartisan legislation passed by Congress blocked a cut in Medicare payments to doctors, in a decision beneficial to many areas in the Delta that have inadequate access to health care. Members of Congress from both parties joined forces to override President Bush’s veto, and their action prevented a major setback in the form of cuts that would have meant many doctors in the Delta could no longer afford to serve Medicare patients.

Senior citizens and their doctors throughout the Delta now know that they are not going to have to suffer from a threatened 10.6 percent cut in fees paid to doctors by Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and the disabled. It cuts reimbursement instead to insurance companies that provide care through plans called Medicare Advantage.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends the many Members of Congress from both parties in our region who joined together in a bipartisan way to pass this beneficial legislation for health care in the Delta. We congratulate the Democrats like Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor and Representatives Marion Berry and Mike Ross from Arkansas, as well as the many Republicans like Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Congressman John Boozman of Arkansas and Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri who supported this legislation. This was truly a bipartisan victory for the Delta.

The Senate voted 70-26 on Tuesday, more than the two thirds needed, to override Bush’s veto of the Medicare legislation. The House voted 383-41 hours earlier to override the veto.

Lower reimbursements would have meant decreased access to care, particularly in underserved rural areas in the Delta that already struggle to attract doctors. The American Medical Association had warned that senior citizens would have a harder time finding physicians if the cut wasn’t reversed.

About one in five of Medicare’s 44 million enrollees is enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, which usually offer extra benefits such as vision care and lower co-payments. The federal health program is expected to pay $86 billion this year for the plans, which are paid on average 13 percent more than it costs Medicare to provide services directly. According to media reports, Bush’s opposition to the legislation focused on changes in insurers’ private fee-for-service plans, which a congressional advisory board has estimated are paid on average 17 percent more than Medicare spends to provide benefits itself.

The legislation will require this type of Medicare Advantage plan to form provider networks, instead of assuming that all doctors and hospitals that take Medicare are part of the plan. The change may cause some plans to close and beneficiaries to choose other Medicare options, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.

According to media reports from the Associated Press and other sources, Medicare also will stop paying private plans extra for patients treated at teaching hospitals. These facilities already receive extra payments to cover their higher cost. Overall, the legislation would reduce payments to private plans by about $12.5 billion over five years. Some Democrats said insurers in Medicare Advantage are overpaid.

The cuts would also have affected TriCare, the federal health-care program for active duty and retired military members and their families. There are approximately 100,000 people in Arkansas alone who are enrolled in TriCare. As former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Hershel Gober emphasized when he spoke at the Delta Grassroots Caucus conference on June 3 in Washington, DC, we have an unusually large percentage of people from the Delta who are either currently serving in the military or are veterans, and we always need to remember and take care of those who have served our country’s armed forces.

Congratulations again to Congress for passing this legislation that will be beneficial for health care in our region and across America. Lee Riley Powell, Delta Grassroots Caucus (202) 360-6347