- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

The success of a pilot program created by the new Medicare law seems questionable as several lawmakers want to block it from coming to their states.

“They’re going to try to kill it,” said Robert Moffit, health care specialist at the Heritage Foundation who strongly supports the program’s competition.

The pilot program, which is to begin in 2010, aims to bring competition into traditional Medicare by forcing it to compete directly with private plans for seniors’ business in six cities. The cities will be chosen by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

At least 15 Senate Democrats — including Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — have introduced bills to block the pilot program from coming to their states.

At least nine House Democrats also have introduced bills to keep the program out of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Texas, California, Michigan, New York and the District.

Some Republicans, such as Sens. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, also didn’t like the pilot program.

One Senate Democratic aide said Democrats introduced bills to block the program because they heard rumors that the Bush administration had agreed to keep the pilot program out of some Republican lawmakers’ back yards. Democrats don’t want Republicans to be exempted from the pilot, while their own districts get stuck with it, the aide said.

Bill Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said he knows of no such deals. He said the Democrats’ bills are just part of their effort to “wage a political war” against the new Medicare law.

The bills are unlikely to go anywhere this year because Republicans control the House, aides on both sides said. But it demonstrates just how staunch the opposition to the pilot program is and how much Democrats will work to get rid of it.

“This program basically amounts to a Medicare-privatization experiment,” said Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle. She said Democrats will continue to push their bills this year, but if there is no action, the issue will definitely return next year.

The original Medicare bill had a wide-ranging competition provision, which many Republicans said was a key way to reform Medicare and make it more cost-efficient. Democrats assailed the idea from the start, saying it would be the beginning of the end for traditional Medicare.

Democrats say the pilot program favors private plans because they’ll receive larger payments from the government to provide the health coverage than traditional Medicare does.

Supporters say the pilot program is designed to settle the debate over whether Medicare or private plans are more efficient at delivering health coverage.

Mr. Moffit of the Heritage Foundation said opposing the pilot program is “profound hypocrisy” because it’s modeled after the competitive health care coverage program that all federal lawmakers have.

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