Congressman Sanford Bishop

Representing the 2nd District of Georgia

Better Medicare Reform Bill Sought

Nov 1, 2003
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. Although he says the House-passed Medicare reform bill agreement contains a number of positive provisions, U.S. Representative Bishop voted “no” after concluding the overall legislation is too “deeply flawed” and Congress could and should draft and enact a better version before the end of the 2003 session.

The U.S. House passed the bill 220-215 early Saturday morning (9/22) and sent it to the Senate.

Representative Bishop issued the following statement that appears in the Congressional Record:

“Mr. Speaker: although the massive conference agreement over Medicare reform contains some of the provisions the country needs and that I support, the overall legislation is deeply flawed. Congress can do better. By voting against the agreement, I am calling on Congress to correct the flawed provisions that would deny many seniors any prescription drug benefit, increase health care costs for many lower income citizens, push many seniors into managed care, put employer-based prescription drug coverage at greater risk, and create an uncertain privatization process that could change the face of Medicare forever.

“By voting down this proposal, we could fix the critical flaws and still have time to enact a sound Medicare reform bill that the country desperately needs before the end of the 2003 session. I am cosponsoring a bill introduced Friday (11/21) that would shore up rural providers and maintain the integrity of Medicare for rural communities, while putting aside the more rancorous issues until later. I urge its consideration.

“Among the agreement’s provisions that I strongly support are those that would provide realistic reimbursements to providers, including giving rural hospitals parity with urban hospitals. Many community hospitals have shut down, and many are struggling to survive. This puts the health of many of our rural citizens, and the vitality of many rural communities, at risk. Relief for at-risk hospitals is one of the positive things about the agreement, and it should be a part of any health care reform enacted by Congress.

“But I cannot overlook the agreement’s overwhelming downside.

“Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, a noted health policy authority from Emory University, calculates that under this agreement 51,450 Georgians would lose employer retiree health benefits; 161,300 Georgians would pay more for prescriptions; 82,000 fewer Georgians would qualify for low-income benefits than under the Senate version; and 34,000 Georgians would pay more for Part B premiums for doctor and outpatient care.

“There are other sections of this lengthy bill, released the same day debate began, that few outside the conference committee have had an opportunity to examine. But much of what we know is disturbing.

“There are no measures in this bill to respond to the problem of skyrocketing of drug costs. Not only would the government be prevented from negotiating drug prices, the possibility of reimportation of less expensive medicine from Canada is effectively killed.

“The actual prescription drug benefit is skimpy, with an enormous coverage gap and an asset test designed to limit access for thousands of truly needy Americans. Moreover, millions of retirees will see the superior coverage they now receive from their former employers weakened or eliminated. That’s nearly 3 million individuals nationally and more than 50,000 in the state of Georgia alone.

“One of the biggest concerns is the agreement’s push to privatization. As drafted, it appears private insurers would tend to pull in the healthiest beneficiaries while those with medical problems would remain with Medicare, causing Medicare costs to sharply rise. This could create what some are calling a ‘death spiral’ of escalating costs in traditional Medicare. More and more seniors would be pushed into the less-expensive HMOs and PPOs simply because they could not afford the higher cost of Medicare.

“From the enormous premium support “demonstration projects” to the weakened federal fallback for areas without meaningful access to private prescription drug plans, this agreement reveals a poor understanding of the needs of rural providers and residents.

“All of these flaws make this agreement unattractive in the short term. But if we look just a bit further down the line, the picture becomes even bleaker. In 2006, when the prescription drug benefit would actually begin, the benefit would be essentially worthless to the average citizen. And, when 45 percent of spending on Medicare comes from general revenues, extreme measures to curtail Medicare spending would be triggered. It’s extremely cynical to include such a dramatic cost-containment mechanism while excluding responsible measures to control Medicare spending.

“There is much that is wrong in this bill, and much less that is right.

“Rarely will we consider any legislation that will have a greater impact on the well being of the American people.

“Let’s get it right!”