Obama administration backs off plan to cut prescription-drug program

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Congressional Democrats expressed relief and Republican leaders did a victory lap Monday after the Obama administration said it will not implement proposed changes to the Medicare program’s prescription-drug benefits.

House Republicans held hearings last week to push back against suggested changes to the popular Medicare Part D program, saying it would limit choices for seniors.

Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, was particularly vocal, saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

The administration’s rules would have whittled down the number of “protected classes” of drugs the program must cover, modified standards to participate in preferred pharmacy networks, and reduced the number of Part D plans a sponsor could offer.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it had heard “numerous concerns about some elements of the proposal from members of Congress and stakeholders.”

“Given the complexities of these issues and stakeholder input, we do not plan to finalize these proposals at this time,” CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said Monday. “We will engage in further stakeholder input before advancing some or all of the changes in these areas in future years.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said his members were “pleasantly surprised” by the announcement.

“This is good news for seniors who have already seen the administration cut Medicare to fund Obamacare,” he said, while adding that Republicans “remain concerned” about proposed payment reductions to an insurer-run alternative to traditional Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage.

Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat and the Ways and Means panel ranking member, said the administration’s voluntary decision negated any need for House Republicans to pass a bill that prevents CMS from implementing the regulations.

To do so would be “a gross overreach, undermining the regulatory process,” he said. “Republicans should withdraw this bill.”

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