HHS officials downplay likelihood of Medicare cuts

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Congress is not likely to have the political appetite to reduce Medicare spending to ease the federal budget deficit next year, said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday.

His comments were in stark contrast to forecasts made in a report from a PricewaterhouseCoopers released Tuesday. It warned of likely drastic Medicare cuts because of the growing federal deficit. In the past, Congress has slashed Medicare funding, particularly to providers, to balance spending levels.

Thompson and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Dr. Mark McClellan did not directly address the prospect of provider cutbacks Tuesday. But they seemed confident lawmakers would not trim funding that would directly hit consumers or dampen aspects of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.

"I don't think [lawmakers] want to do anything, because of all the adverse publicity around this . . . to harm the implementation of the drug benefit before it even gets started," Thompson said. "Therefore, I doubt very much that is going to take place."