Leavitt makes Medicaid commission official

Sunday, May 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, last week signed a charter enacting the Medicaid study commission.

The commission, called for by a budget resolution approved by Congress last month, will recommend ways to cut $10 billion from Medicaid over five years and propose long-term solutions to slow the program's rising costs.

The commission will have as many as 15 voting members appointed by Leavitt. They will include federal Medicaid officials; current or former governors; current or former state Medicaid directors; three health care policy experts; and "other individuals with expertise in health, finance or administration," according to the charter.

There will also be 18 non-voting members. Congressional leaders will appoint four Republican and four Democratic legislators to those posts. People involved with Medicaid, including state and local officials, consumer advocates and healthcare providers, will fill the 10 remaining spots.

The commission is expected to make recommendation on how to cut $10 billion from the Medicaid budget by Sept. 1. By Dec. 1, 2006, the commission must also make some long-term recommendations on the future of the Medicaid program. These recommendations will address 10 questions, including "What are alternatives to Medicaid for the delivery of long-term care?"

The commission will also examine eligibility, benefits and financing structures for three categories of beneficiaries -- mothers and children, people with disabilities and the elderly.

This non-partisan commission was spurred by action in the U.S. House and Senate. Votes in those chambers bucked the wishes of leadership by tabling cuts in the original budget proposal and instead called for further study of the matter.

"What you see is a desire for there to be a very rational, very studied approach toward any changes that they make in the Medicaid program," said Ann Howard, AAHomecare's director of federal policy.

"This commission provides and opportunity," she added. "The hatchet is not going to come down in the way that people thought it might. There is going to be a reasoned approach, and homecare will have the opportunity to show how it can be a part of the solution."