Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have outlined hundreds of billions of dollars in potential healthcare savings for the deficit-cutting supercommittee to consider.
Ways and Means Democrats described two dozen policy changes in a memo prepared ahead of the supercommittee's quest for roughly $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.
The biggest-ticket items on the Ways and Means list are, of course, the most politically charged. Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 could save about $125 billion over the next decade, according to the committee's summary. But the document warns that "raising the Medicare eligibility age would be a radical departure from current policy and is only possible if the (healthcare reform law) is retained."
President Obama proposed raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of the debt-ceiling agreement, but Democrats are hardly united behind the policy.
Republicans are largely opposed to the other triple-digit option Ways and Means described — extending rebates for prescription drugs so that they apply to people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid. That policy would save the federal government $120 billion over 10 years, and Ways and Means Democrats said the pharmaceutical industry's objections are mostly baseless.
"The pharmaceutical industry has raised concerns about this policy option because they assert it would reduce their profits, dampen investment in research and development and raise premiums," the summary states. "However, virtually all of the Medicare beneficiary advocate groups (including AARP) have endorsed this policy option and do not believe it would raise Medicare premiums."
In addition to raising the eligibility age, Ways and Means outlined a handful of other policies that also would affect benefits. Charging co-pays for home health care could net up to $40 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and higher cost-sharing for nursing-home care could save Medicare more than $20 billion.
The list also covers a slew of payment cuts to doctors and other healthcare providers, which would not directly affect Medicare benefits. Those proposals were also outlined during the debt-ceiling talks. And though many of them are potentially attractive ways to find health savings without politically difficult benefit cuts, Congress will need to find further health cuts at the end of the year to pay for a temporary patch in Medicare payments to doctors.