Stark, Baucus turn up the heat on Medicare bill

The only reason why a Senator might vote against a Medicare improvement bill later this week is because he or she puts corporate profits above senior citizens’ health, House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said on a conference call a few minutes ago.

“The bill is modest, it’s far less than we passed in the house a year ago in the CHAMP Act,” Stark said. “It’s a compromise that addresses the current need in Medicare, and that is the pay cut… for the primary care docs.”

That’s a 10.6 percent pay cut, which already has taken effect; because there’s a two-week delay in doctor reimbursements, it’s going to start hurting physicians soon. The pending bill would delay the pay cut for 18 months; advocates say it also would improve Medicare for seniors, people with disabilities, rural residents and pharmacists.

“Time has run out, doctors are facing payment cuts, other medicare programs have expired. Seniors’ care is in jeopardy, plain and simple,” U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said on the same conference call. “If we pay doctors properly, seniors get to see their doctors when they need to.”

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, H.R.6331, passed the House with a whopping, veto-proof margin of 355-59, but Senate Republicans managed to block it June 26 with a 58-40 cloture vote. The Senate will revisit the bill this week; Baucus said the schedule is up to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but with Tuesday’s funeral for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms likely to put the Senate out of commission for the day, the vote on this bill likely will come Wednesday or Thursday.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, but Baucus said he thinks there’s “some daylight” there should the Senate pass the bill with a stronger vote while seniors’ and doctors’ groups turn up the heat on the White House.

“We don’t always get a second chance in life, but this week senators will get a second chance to do the right thing on Medicare,” Baucus said.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.