Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gop Can Look to Previous Ideas on Trimming Costs of Medicare

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gop Can Look to Previous Ideas on Trimming Costs of Medicare

Article excerpt

MEDICARE WAS IN guarded condition even before the debate over balancing the federal budget. Soon the elderly will have to pay more for health coverage.

Medicare, the nationwide health insurance program, pays hospital and doctors' bills for the elderly and for some disabled people. The program is open to people of all income levels if they are covered by Social Security.

Most Republicans are reluctant to say how they'll find $256 billion to $283 billion in Medicare savings over seven years, but they needn't look far for suggestions.

They can dust off the cobwebs from President Bill Clinton's Health Security Act or dip into a sheaf of studies from the Congressional Budget Office, the Heritage Foundation and other groups.

The most likely would be increasing premiums for Part B of Medicare, which covers doctor bills, lab tests and other out-of-hospital expenses, and which is handsomely subsidized for everyone.

Both Clinton and former President George Bush wanted to make upper-income retirees pay more for this coverage, and Congress may finally accept the idea. The monthly premium now is $46.10, but the coverage is worth more than $150 a month to Medicare's 37 million beneficiaries.

Other candidates for change are raising the $100 annual deductible for Part B services and making older adults pay up to 20 percent of the bill for lab tests and perhaps for home health care.

Another possibility is making all state and local government employees pay the Medicare tax. Most already do, but workers for a few states don't, and they usually get Medicare coverage anyway through other jobs.

Also, doctors and hospitals will probably have their fee increases squeezed.

Medicare's Part B - also called Supplementary Medical Insurance - actually has nothing to do with the short-term crisis that threatens to bankrupt the Medicare hospital insurance trust fund by 2002. That fund is fueled by the 2.9 percent Medicare payroll tax. It had $133 billion in reserve at the end of 1994 but starts dropping in 1996.

Republicans have accused Clinton of walking away from Medicare's problems.

Haley Barbour, who heads the National Republican Committee, said the public wouldn't accept politicians who shirk their responsibility to prevent Medicare bankruptcy. …

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