Medicare reform

Friday, November 7, 2003

(Minneapolis) Star Tribune

When President Bush called a news conference last Wednesday and asked congressional leaders to speed up their glacial negotiations on Medicare reform, he sounded like the anxious homeowner who asked his contractors to install one simple appliance and now finds that they are remodeling the whole house -- with incessant quarrels.

It was only the latest sign that the Medicare overhaul -- a $400 billion project that represents the program's biggest change in 38 years -- is veering dangerously off course.

Here's the plot summary so far. The House and Senate have each passed a bill accomplishing the basic goal: creating a much-needed prescription drug benefit for Medicare and its 44 million elderly patients. But House and Senate negotiators have now locked themselves away behind closed doors for weeks -- with Democrats excluded -- and are battling over a vast new set of issues, such as raising premiums for the wealthy, changing the way that Medicare pays for home care and whether governors would have to pick up more of the bill for what has been a federal program. ...

... Make no mistake, Medicare has serious problems -- it costs too much and covers too little. But lawmakers will have to do extraordinary work in precious few weeks to produce a brand new structure that actually improves the quality and efficiency of health care for elderly Americans.

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