Bush budget to propose major savings from Medicare | VailDaily.com

Bush budget to propose major savings from Medicare

WASHINGTON – President Bush hopes to seize momentum from a just-completed budget cut bill by proposing tens of billions of dollars in savings from the Medicare program when he submits his 2007 budget on Monday.The budget is expected to wring perhaps $40 billion over the next five years from Medicare providers like hospitals and home health care providers, as called for by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a bipartisan panel of experts that makes Medicare policy recommendations to Congress.Last year, Bush urged Congress to leave Medicare alone as the administration began implementing the new Medicare drug benefit. He instead focused on finding savings from the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.After Congress just squeezed $28 billion from Medicaid over the next decade – considerably less than the $45 billion proposed by Bush a year ago – the president is looking for big savings from the rapidly growing Medicare program, said lawmakers, staff aides and health industry lobbyists.Bush is expected to steer clear of proposals asking direct election-year sacrifices from Medicare beneficiaries, who are already agitated over foul-ups in the startup of the new prescription drug program.But hospitals and other powerful interest groups are girding for battle over cuts they will be asked to take. Adopting the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s recommendations would give the White House political cover for Bush’s new proposals.The commission recommended reducing payments to hospitals for both inpatient and outpatient care by about half of 1 percent below scheduled inflation adjustments.Home health care providers under Medicare fear seeing their payments frozen as recommended by MedPAC. The advisory commission also has recommended freezing payments to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”It’s doable and it’s good health care policy,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said of the MedPAC recommendations. Gregg said he expects significant Medicare cost curbs to be included in Bush’s budget.Elsewhere, the $2.7 trillion budget will ask virtually every domestic Cabinet department except Homeland Security to operate at or below current budget levels.The Pentagon would receive a nearly 5 percent increase in its budget, to $439.3 billion, defense officials said, with an additional $120 billion earmarked for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those war funds would be spread over both the current budget year and fiscal 2007, which begins Oct. 1.The budget will also project about $18 billion more for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast.The White House says the burgeoning costs of the war and hurricane aid will cause the budget deficit to exceed $400 billion for the current year, up from $319 billion in 2005. The record deficit in dollar terms is $413 billion, set in 2004.Bush said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that the budget would keep his promise, made in 2004, to bring the deficit below $260 billion by the time he leaves office.The White House will not divulge details of the budget before its Monday release, but congressional aides briefed on parts of it shared some details with The Associated Press. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because the budget hasn’t been released.The Homeland Security Department would receive a 6 percent budget boost to its $33.3 billion budget for this year, but that increase depends on enactment of new fees on air travel of $5 each way. Comparable fees proposed a year ago were dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.Amtrak, the financially troubled national rail carrier, would receive $900 million under Bush’s budget, a cut of about $400 million from current levels.But that’s a significantly higher budget than proposed for the railroad last year, when Bush proposed eliminating Amtrak’s operating subsidy in a move aimed at closing unprofitable long-distance routes – a move resoundingly rejected by Congress.The National Institutes of Health, which funds health care research, would see its budget essentially frozen at slightly more than $28 billion. NASA, however, would receive a 3 percent budget increase and the National Science Foundation would receive about an 8 percent increase.Bush also plans to ask Congress for more than $130 million for a system employers would be required to use to verify job applicants are legally eligible to work in the U.S.Vail, Colorado

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