Changes to Medicare, Medicaid to be discussed in hearings, debt talks

The future of Medicare and Medicaid will be a hot topic as negotiations on the debt ceiling continue this week.

At least three bipartisan meetings helmed by Vice President Biden have been scheduled, and both parties began to make concessions this past week as a possible deal appeared to emerge. After House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he’s open to keeping traditional Medicare as an option alongside private plans in his overhaul proposal, House Democrats offered their own solutions for preserving Medicare’s solvency.

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Those ideas are likely to come up in the talks, even if they’re unlikely to get very far. House and Senate Democrats have introduced bills to extract more money from prescription drug rebates, and a group of House Dems proposed letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for medicines, but neither of those longtime liberal priorities passed even when Democrats controlled both chambers. On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee holds a hearing on how to improve care for the so-called “dual eligibles” — low-income elderly or disabled Americans who are on both Medicare and Medicaid and have some of the highest healthcare costs. The next day, the Oversight subpanel examines Medicare’s secondary payer regime, which kicks in when beneficiaries are covered by an employer group health plan or worker’s compensation insurance.

The Ways and Means Health subcommittee on Wednesday holds a hearing on the latest Medicare trustees report, which projected that the hospital insurance trust fund would be exhausted by 2024 — five years earlier than last year’s estimate. This is meant to be the first in a series of hearings on Medicare’s future.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee holds a hearing on the Department of Defense’s 2012 request, which includes $52 billion on healthcare spending. And on Thursday, House appropriators take up a financial services spending bill that bars the IRS from implementing the healthcare reform law’s individual mandate.

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the way forward on healthcare entitlements. Witnesses have yet to be announced.

Off the Hill, the Institute of Medicine on Wednesday will release a report on strategies for preventing obesity in children from birth through preschool. The report will recommend policies to promote healthy weights among children under the age of 5.

And starting Thursday, more than 500 public health officials, physicians and other experts convene in Chicago to debate the next steps for healthcare reform. High among the topics of discussion will be the administration’s national prevention strategy, unveiled this past week.