Skeptical Congress attacks Bush budget

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Democrats on a key House committee took Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt to task over the Bush administration's fiscal 2008 budget proposal, which includes plans to significantly cut Medicare provider spending.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee called the administration's proposal a missed opportunity to work with Democrats to make changes to the healthcare system. The president wants to reduce Medicare spending by $76 billion over five years in large part through payment cuts to nursing homes, hospitals and other providers.

Democrats also homed in on the administration's decision not to cut spending for Medicare managed-care plans, speculating that the administration is protecting the plans in its effort to privatize Medicare. House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA) accused the secretary of being influenced by managed care special interests. They "have gotten to you," he said. But Leavitt countered that managed care is being protected in the budget because it fosters integrated care, which can reduce program spending.