Obama opens the door for drastic new Medicare, Medicaid cuts for nursing homes

The move to empower the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee to enact its own policy proposals gained significant traction last week when President Obama said in a letter to lawmakers that he would be open to the idea as a way to reduce healthcare costs.

In his letter to Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and other leaders in the healthcare reform movement, Obama endorsed the notion of moving MedPAC away from its role as a legislative advisory body to a loftier position of power within the executive branch. Noting that MedPAC was created under a Republican-controlled congress, Obama reiterated to the liberal senators that, under the proposal, MedPAC recommendations would be adopted “unless opposed by a joint resolution of the Congress.” MedPAC proposed freezing reimbursement rates for skilled nursing facilities, and cutting home health services by 5.5% in FY 2010.

On May 20, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation that would bring the MedPAC change. Long-term care groups typically oppose MedPAC recommendations, which lately have called for payment freezes. By focusing solely on Medicare payment levels, MedPAC does not take into account that higher Medicare payments are needed to offset significant Medicaid under funding, providers say.