Health industry wish list for debt committee

Sep 15, 2011, 2:15 p.m.

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama next week will issue proposals for reducing the deficit to Congress, where a "super committee" of Republicans and Democrats is seeking at least $1.2 trillion in savings over a decade, and costly health programs will be considered for cuts.

Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and equipment makers that rely on $950 billion in annual Medicare and Medicaid spending could see less onerous, automatic cuts if the committee failed to reach a deficit-cutting deal. Some healthcare lobbyists are actively pressing for a deadlock.

Following are some of the steps that lobbyists and trade representatives for the $2.3 trillion U.S. healthcare industry would like to see considered, or avoided:


* Increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 over a 10-year period for people who are healthy;

* Unify the cost-sharing rates for Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient care at hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, and Part B, which covers doctor services and outpatient care;

* Require individuals earning $150,000 a year or more to pay full premium costs for doctor services, and prescription drug benefits under Medicare Part D;

* Create a Medicare Exchange in which beneficiaries could buy private insurance plans while retaining the option of remaining in traditional fee-for-service Medicare;

* Repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate mechanism, a complex formula used to determine reimbursement rates for doctors. The SGR, created by Congress in 1997, has periodically sought to impose deep, unintended payment cuts that have had to be overturned by lawmakers and the White House;

* Avoid mandatory prescription drug rebates for Medicare;


* Place people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid into Medicaid managed-care programs;

* Apply cost-cutting reforms outlined in the Affordable Care Act, including the bundling of provider payments and the use of accountable care organizations;


* Increase the FICA payroll tax that the federal government imposes on employers and employees to fund Medicare and Social Security;

* Tax expensive, so-called "Cadillac" health insurance plans provided by employers;

* Impose taxes on junk food and sugary drinks;


* Restrict medical liability by capping noneconomic damages in malpractice cases;

* Adopt a one-year statute of limitations on injury lawsuits;

* Create a 'fair share' rule requiring defendants to pay damages commensurate with their responsibility for injuries;

* Link liability protection for healthcare providers to their use of cost-lowering information technology and outcome-based treatment plans;

SOURCES: American Medical Association; America's Health Insurance Plans; American Hospital Association; Healthcare Leadership Council; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

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