MEDICARE IMPROVEMENT FOR PATIENTS AND PROVIDERS ACT OF 2008--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - June 12, 2008)
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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, this is a very important bill for reasons which I am discussing in this statement. I believe that it is vital for the Senate to take up this important measure to have open debate to give Senators an opportunity to offer amendments and to have the Senate work its will on these important questions.
As noted in previous floor statements, I have been concerned about the majority leader's practice of employing a procedure known as filling the tree, which precludes Senators from offering amendments. That undercuts the basic tradition of the Senate to allow Senators to offer amendments. Regrettably, this has been a practice developed in the Senate by majority leaders on both sides of the aisle, so both Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
I announced publicly at a Senate Judiciary Committee executive session this morning, June 12, 2208, that I would vote with Senator Baucus for cloture if I knew the majority leader would not fill the tree. In a telephone conversation this afternoon, June 12, 2008, Majority Leader HARRY REID advised me that he would not fill the tree.
This will provide an opportunity for a full range of debate and decisions by the Senate on many important issues.
On the Medicare bill specifically, S. 3101 has a number of issues which are important to Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania and across the Nation. Foremost of those issues is the prevention of a 10.6-percent reduction in the Medicare reimbursement for physicians. A decrease of this size could result in doctors limiting the number of Medicare beneficiaries they take on as patients or refusing to take them on as patients at all. To resolve this grave problem, the legislation prevents the scheduled reduction, continues the current .5 percent increase for 2008, and provides an increase of 1.1 percent for 2009. This is a needed increase that will improve access to physicians for seniors.
This legislation also contains an important provision to extend the section 508 wage index reclassification program. This program, established in the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, provides important funding for hospitals that have been disadvantaged by Medicare's wage index reclassification. This is of particular importance in northeastern Pennsylvania where hospitals struggle to meet the wages needed to keep employees from commuting to other areas which have a higher reimbursement rate. This is an important extension; however, a permanent solution is needed to solve this problem for all hospitals.
I am informed that the bill will include a delay in the Medicare durable medical equipment, DME, competitive bidding program. This is critical to western Pennsylvania, as it is one of the regions selected to begin the program. While competitive bidding can be productive in lowering the cost of medical equipment, the manner in which this program was implemented was unacceptable. During the competition for bids, half of the bids were disqualified, often for clerical problems. Further, the program is set to begin in just over 2 weeks and seniors have not been notified of these changes. This legislation will delay the implementation of this program to allow for the proper implementation of this program and correction of these problems.
I am also informed that the bill will include a provision to increase Medicare payments to oncologists and other physicians for the cost of patient treatment. Physicians are facing shortfalls in their reimbursement, especially pertaining to cancer treatment. This provision will provide an accurate and up-to-date reimbursement for drug costs, ensuring cancer treatment will be accessible to Medicare beneficiaries.
I am concerned about a change that this legislation makes in the ability of beneficiaries to purchase power wheelchairs. S. 3101 requires the rental of standard wheelchairs for 13 months instead of a physician determining if the beneficiary should purchase the equipment immediately. This provision removes the problem of purchasing wheelchairs for short term users but increases the cost 5 percent for the purchase after those 13 months. To insure that beneficiaries get the wheelchairs they need without overspending, a physician should be required to certify that a power wheelchair is needed for at least 13 months. I am confident as we consider this bill we can work out the differences we have and come to an agreement.
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