Democrats balk at Medicaid Commission

Sunday, July 31, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The Medicaid Reform Commission created by Congress to replace some debilitating cuts to the program lost some footing in June when congressional Democrats and the state governors said they would not participate in the work group.
The commission was created this spring after legislators bucked the wishes of Republican leadership and tabled a bill that would have cut Medicaid funding by $20 million. Instead, a bi-partisan commission was established to recommend where to cut $10 billion from the program over five years. Members will also examine options for a long-term restructuring of the program.
Democrats, however, have given the idea the cold shoulder.
"Unfortunately, the partisan nature of the commission and the lack of voting rights are not our only reasons for refusing to appoint members," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-N.M., in a joint statement. "We fundamentally disagree with the premise that this commission should make recommendations on how to cut Medicaid outlays by $10 billion by Sept. 1."
Both parties were given the opportunity to select four member of Congress to serve on the committee as advisers, not voting members.
"I think a concern is that it won't be a free and open discussion, but I don't know what it was that precipitated that strong feeling among the Democrats," said Ann Howard, AAHomecare's director of federal policy.
Howard said that Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who championed the commission in the Senate also declined to participate. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also indicated he would not nominate anyone to serve on the panel.
The National Governors Association has also declined representation on the commission. Matt Salo, the director of the NGA's health and human services committee, said the NGA would instead share its own committee's recommendations with the panel and offer it staff and resources.
"We have our commission, and we are really hitting our stride, so it didn't make sense to splinter off and join someone else's commission," he said. Despite the grumblings, Howard is confident that the commission could be a chance for homecare's benefits to shine.
"We will try to create a positive by conveying the fact that homecare is clinically effective, cost effective and consumer preferred," she said. "That really does go right along with the stand of the Bush administration, the CMS administrator, and the HHS secretary to rebalance Medicaid between institutional and home and community based services. Our message should fit hand in glove with what they are thinking of doing."