House not shutting door on Medicare

Even though President Bush has vowed to veto prescription-drug legislation that is sent to him this year, House Republicans are expressing a growing interest in tackling Medicare entitlement spending as they grapple with Social Security reform.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said he raised the matter at a recent House Republican Conference meeting and was told by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that Bush’s comments do not mean that changes to Medicare are off the table in 2005.

After the administration last month updated its estimates on the costs of the Medicare drug benefit, lawmakers of both parties called for legislative fixes to the benefit, which goes into effect in January.

On Feb. 11, Bush said that “any attempt to limit the choices and to take away [beneficiaries’] prescription-drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto.”

Wamp, who voted against the House-Senate Medicare drug bill in November 2003, wants to means-test the Medicare drug benefit. Wamp also backs legislation that would legalize the reimportation of pharmaceuticals from other countries.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) opposes reimportation and has not expressed any interest in means-testing the new drug benefit. However, he has said that healthcare issues, such as long-term care, should be considered as part of a broad package to reform Social Security.

Some Republicans, including Wamp, have pointed out that it is politically difficult to make the case that Social Security is in crisis when Medicare is estimated to become insolvent 23 years before Social Security.

The bankruptcy date of Medicare was moved from 2026 to 2019 after actuaries accounted for the new drug benefit.
A spokesperson for Blunt did not return a phone call seeking comment.