News Releases

Murray Shares Health Care Concerns with Bush Medicare/Medicaid Director in Advance of Washington Visit

Apr 19 2002

Bush Administration plans to cut Washington state Medicaid funding by $200 million, Provides no more funding for Medicare health care providers

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – In anticipation of his visit to Bellevue on Monday, Sen. Patty Murray today sent a letter to the Bush Administration's director of Medicare and Medicaid to share some health care concerns facing Washington state residents.

Tom Scully, Administrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, will visit the Overlake Hospital Medical Center at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

In her letter, Murray criticizes the Administration's decision to cut Medicaid funding for Washington state by $200 million next year. She points out that especially during a recession, when unemployment is rising and more families may depend on Medicaid for their health care, President Bush should not be cutting these funds.

She also discusses the regional inequities in Medicare physician payments – the fact that Washington state doctors can receive nearly half of what a doctor in Florida receives for treating the same patient – and asked that the Administration support efforts to increase physician reimbursement rates.

Finally, Murray expressed her concern that the only increase in Medicare funding in the Bush budget went to insurance companies and Medicare HMOs, which serve a tiny fraction of all Medicare patients. Many physicians in Washington state are no longer accepting new Medicare patients because of the low reimbursement rates, yet the Administration provides nothing to increase those low rates.

A copy of the letter follows.

April 19, 2002

Mr. Thomas A. Scully
Administrator
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Administrator Scully:

I am pleased to learn of your visit Monday to the state of Washington. I find there is no better way to see how government policies affect people's lives than to actually visit with constituents. This will also enable you to learn first-hand about some of the health care challenges facing many Washington state residents.

In advance of your arrival, I would like to take this opportunity to share a few of the health care concerns of many of my constituents.

MEDICAID UPPER PAYMENT LIMIT (ProShare):

The economic recession has been especially tough on Washington State, which has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. As more men and women lose their jobs, they depend on Medicaid to provide health care for themselves and their children. The recession has also severely hindered Washington State's ability to provide one of the most comprehensive Medicaid programs in the country.

Current Medicaid practices enable the federal government to reimburse states for up to 150% of their Medicaid expenses, known as the "Upper Payment Limit." For states like Washington, this funding is essential to providing health care to a vulnerable population.

In 2000, the previous administration recognized that some states were manipulating the Upper Payment Limit and implemented a phase-out of these additional payments. Though not perfect, states had time to adjust to the reduced federal payments.

But the Bush Administration has decided to eliminate additional Medicaid payments immediately. This will result in a crippling, $200 million cut to Washington State.

I have co-sponsored amendments to reverse the Administration's Medicaid cuts, because I believe that a national recession is the wrong time to be eliminating the health care coverage of vulnerable populations.

MEDICARE REGIONAL INEQUITY FOR PHYSICIAN PAYMENTS:

Another important issue is the regional inequity in physician payments under Medicare. Washington State is ranked 45th out of the 50 states in per-beneficiary reimbursements. A doctor in Florida, for example, can get nearly twice as much money from Medicare as a doctor in Washington State for seeing the same patient with the same ailments.

As a result of this inherent inequity -- and the recent 5.4% reduction for physicians nationwide -- some doctors in Washington State are no longer accepting new Medicare patients. The regional inequity also hurts Washington hospitals, which will not be able to attract health care professionals since other states are able to pay them more.

Many of us in Congress are working on legislative remedies to address these inequities, and I hope that the Administration will support efforts to increase physician reimbursement rates so that seniors in Washington State – and other states – can continue to get good health care.

MEDICARE PROVIDER PAYMENTS:

The recent 5.4% cut in physician payments is causing doctors to flee the Medicare program, and is hurting seniors who may have trouble finding a doctor who will accept new Medicare patients. Yet the Administration's Medicare budget provides no additional funding for health care providers.

In fact, the only increase in Medicare funding in the President's budget goes to insurance companies and Medicare HMOs. As you know, only a small fraction of seniors are enrolled in a Medicare HMO and thus the vast majority of seniors will see no benefit from your budget. This is a problem.

The Senate Budget Committee, on the other hand, did include additional resources for Medicare providers, including hospitals, doctors and home health care agencies. I hope that you carefully review the Senate budget proposal, which also provides funding for prescription drug coverage.

Again, I am pleased that you will visit the 8th congressional district on Monday and I would like to invite you to come back at a future date to visit other parts of the state where the health care needs are even more desperate – perhaps a low-income or rural area.

Thank you for taking the time to hear these important concerns. I hope that your visit to Washington will illustrate the extraordinary impacts that your policies will have on many vulnerable populations.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray,
United States Senator