Senate passes budget package cutting $10 billion from Medicaid, Medicare

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The Senate narrowly approved its fiscal year 2006 budget reconciliation bill that saves $10 billion from the Medicaid and Medicare programs over five years.

The bill passed 52 to 47 late last week as Democrats verwhelmingly voted against the bill.

The package includes many provisions affecting long-term care facilities. One would close loopholes that permit residents to transfer assets to qualify for Medicaid in facilities. Another would reduce Medicare reimbursement of nursing home bad debt to 70% from 100% of allowable costs. The bill would also sustain the 75% Rule at a 50% level until June 30 of 2007.
 
Prior to voting, the Senate considered several amendments. It rejected Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) amendment to delay the enrollment of Medicare/Medicaid dual-eligibles in the new Medicare drug program. They will be auto-enrolled in the new Medicare drug benefit as of Dec. 31.
 
The Senate, however, accepted an amendment from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a Finance Committee member, changing purchase agreements for power-driven wheelchairs under Medicare. The amendment would require suppliers to offer Medicare beneficiaries the option to purchase power wheelchairs. This payment would be made on a lump-sum basis.

The House is expected to vote on its budget bill this week.
(Published 11-7-05)