Harkin to fiscal cliff negotiators: 'Keep your hands off Medicaid ... Medicare'

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
At financial discussions heat up about cuts needed to reduce the federal deficit, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) called Medicaid a “lifeline” and told fellow legislators to “Keep your hands off Medicaid, and keep your hands of Medicare.”

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, joined fellow Democrats and other proponents to urge protection of the social health programs.

 Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health observed, “Medicaid is an easy target. Most people don't know what it is, and those who do know don't care. We get nervous when we hear about secret meetings [between the president and House negotiators] … and I feel no obligation to vote for a bad deal just to be able to get Republican votes.”

Both comments came from the Senate HELP Committee hearing room sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Families USA, Healthcare for America Now, the National Education Association, and Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers.

Republicans see current budget negotiations as an opportunity to put social programs under the microscope, and perhaps under the knife. Any cuts to Medicaid could damage the Affordable Care Act, which calls for expanding the program with the federal government picking up much of the tab. States may choose not to increase the program.

As the haggling continues whether Medicare and Medicaid will be included in the federal budget reduction debate, various proposals involving Medicaid are being considered, including: Limitations on Medicaid provider taxes; Limiting states to a fixed dollar amount per beneficiary; Medicaid block grants; and a blended match rate.

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