Medicare, Medicaid Cuts On Congress’ Agenda
When Congress returns to Washington from its end-of-year holiday recess one of its first matters of business will be a proposed measure which includes significant Medicare and Medicaid cuts, according to reports.
After Vice President Dick Cheney cast a tie-breaking vote for a 51–50 Republican victory in the Senate on $39.7 billion in cuts from programs to help seniors and the poor, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, refused to consent to consider the measure, thus blocking a vote on it.
When the two houses get back in session, Republican leaders hope to resolve the differences between House and Senate versions of the budget-cutting bills by putting a $56 billion, five–year reduction proposal on the table, which is what the Bush administration had originally set as a target before the Democrats whittled it down.
Among the changes the Republicans seek are an $8 billion cut in Medicare and a $5 billion slice out of Medicaid. Student loans would also be hard hit.
The Medicaid reductions would be achieved by giving state governments broad new authorizations to impose premiums and co-payments on millions of low-income persons, elderly and disabled now covered by Medicaid. States would also be given greater power to scale back other benefits now enjoyed by many recipients.
Another significant change in Medicaid under the proposed budget would make it much more difficult for seniors to qualify for nursing home coverage if they transfer assets to their children or other relatives at a cost less than fair market value of these assets.
Governor George Pataki has also made proposals to enforce more strictly the three-year time limit when seniors can transfer or sell their homes to a family member in order to satisfy the Medicare requirement to qualify for nursing home care.
To achieve the Medicare reductions, home health services payments would be frozen and payments to patients for medical imaging would be reduced.
Overall, this would be the most serious effort to reduce benefit programs since 1997.
Student loan programs would also take a severe hit in the proposed budget reductions. Higher interest rates would be imposed on student loans, making them more costly, and many banks would receive lower government subsidies for participating in college loan programs.
FED HOME HEATING HIKE LOSES: Seniors and low-income persons who benefit from the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) also took it on the chin as Congress shut down for the holiday last week. A provision for $2 billion worth of extra assistance for low-income people to pay their home heating bills, which are expected to be higher than in previous years because fuel prices have risen, was struck by the Republican leadership from the $453.3 billion military spending bill as the House was getting ready to leave for the holidays, it was reported. Perhaps there’s a chance the funds will get back into the military budget when the lawmakers return.
Meanwhile, the New York City Council is getting ready to step in and provide $4 million for the historically under-funded HEAP program.
A council release said that a budget modification in the amount of $4 million would be introduced (and passed) to supplement funds the city receives for the HEAP program from the federal government.
MEETINGS: Councilmember Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills) will be the guest speaker at the January 8 meeting of the Kew–Forest–Woodside Loitz Post 250, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, according to Post Commander Spencer Polinger. Katz’ topic will be any matters pertaining to veterans that might be coming up at the 2006 council session. The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Rego Park Jewish Center, 97-30 Queens Blvd., Rego Park.
N. FLUSHING CHAPTER AARP: Members of the North Flushing Chapter AARP 4158 will perform comedy sketches at their next meeting on Tuesday, January 10 at the Church On the Hill, 167-07 35th Ave., Flushing.