House Dems open to Medicare deal, despite concerns

House Democrats say they are open to supporting an emerging Medicare deal despite concerns about provisions that would make some beneficiaries pay more. 

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Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been in negotiations with Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerSudan sanctions spur intense lobbying OPINION | GOP's 7-year ObamaCare blood oath ends in failure A simple fix to encourage bipartisanship in the House MORE (R-Ohio) over a permanent stop to automatic spending cuts for doctors under Medicare known as the Sustainable Growth Rate.

There had been concerns brewing among some Democrats about ways to pay for the deal, including making wealthier Medicare beneficiaries pay more and introducing a deductible for some supplemental Medigap plans. 

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Tuesday that he would oppose the deal as it then stood, citing the changes for beneficiaries. The AARP also opposed the deal in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.  

A key moment came on Wednesday, though, when Pelosi signaled at her press conference that the deal is going forward.

"I don't know when the announcement will be, but we are proceeding in a positive way,” Pelosi said. “It is an engine that is going to leave the station, and hence every idea that couldn't find an engine before wants to be on it.”

"So we're trying to be respectful of the requests of colleagues, but I think we will have bipartisan agreement, and it will be a good agreement,” she added.

While no final details have been announced, the emerging deal would cost around $210 billion, with $70 billion being paid for, although proponents argue there would be even greater savings over time.

The Medigap changes and higher rates for wealthier beneficiaries are part of how that $70 billion is found.  

Under the plan, seniors making more than $133,000 would be asked to pay a higher share. One income bracket would pay 65 percent of premium costs, for example, up from 50 percent. 

However, despite their reservations, Democrats say they are open to the larger agreement. 

“They're all problems, but so far, the way it looks now, it's something I could support overall because it's maybe the best we can do,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.). 

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who has been involved in the talks as the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, pointed out that Medicare premiums already depend on income, and the proposal would just shift the numbers for people who earn more.

“I think these changes are much better than others we could have done,” he said.

Another issue for Democrats is the extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which funds insurance for 8 million low-income children and will expire at the end of September without action. Democrats are pushing for a four-year extension, but the proposed deal would include only two years.

“I want to see four years of CHIP, I wouldn't say two years would make it a negative for me,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who added he is still waiting to see the details.

On the Republican side, while some conservatives have voiced objections to the budget implications, many are backing the deal. Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersCharities push GOP for tax reform change Trump, GOP lawmakers struggle with messaging Paul Ryan: ‘Beautiful day’ to catch up with Bono MORE (R-Wash.), the fourth-ranking House Republican, said Tuesday the conference is “encouraged” that there is some movement on entitlements. 

Above the level of the details, there is hope that a deal on the doc fix would pave the way for more negotiations and progress in the House. 

“I'm hoping that this might be the start of Pelosi and BoehnerJohn BoehnerSudan sanctions spur intense lobbying OPINION | GOP's 7-year ObamaCare blood oath ends in failure A simple fix to encourage bipartisanship in the House MORE getting together and trying to see where there's common ground so you can't have the Tea Party hold everything captive,” Engel said. “And you cannot have a situation where everything goes to the eleventh hour and the public thinks less and less of us.”