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Snowe Takes Issue With Medicare Expansion

Moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) indicated Thursday that she would likely oppose a Democratic proposal to expand Medicare under the health care reform bill.“I just think that is wrong direction to take,— Snowe said, noting that her opposition to lower the eligibility age for Medicare was “on the same level of concern— as her opposition to the public option that is currently in the Senate bill.The inclusion of a public option that states could opt out of caused Snowe to join the rest of Senate Republican colleagues in an attempted filibuster of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) $848 billion bill last month. The filibuster failed because Reid convinced all 60 Members of the Democratic Conference to vote to bring the measure to the floor.Snowe said she fears that a proposal to allow individuals ages 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare could “exacerbate— the current problem of lower Medicare reimbursement rates to providers and hospitals in small and rural states, such as Maine. “I’m going to talk to a lot of my providers this afternoon and I know they are mighty unhappy because it does … further aggravate a serious problem,— she told reporters.The Medicare expansion plan came from a group of 10 Democrats that Reid had tasked with devising a compromise that could replace the public insurance option that is currently in the measure. That plan was sent to the Congressional Budget Office for an official cost estimate Wednesday.Snowe is not the first Senator to express concern that Medicare reimburses doctors at rates so low that many doctors around the country have stopped accepting new Medicare patients.Even liberal Members of the Democratic Conference have noted they may not be able to support the proposal.On Wednesday night, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she would have a hard time supporting a Medicare expansion “unless there is some adjustment to the geographic disparity. Historically, states that deliver high-quality, cost-effective care have been on the short end of the stick.—One Senate Democratic aide said the issue “could become a major problem on the scale of the public option.—Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) also reiterated his serious concerns with the proposal as well, because it’s another expansion of government.Still, Lieberman said his opposition to the public option – which he has vowed to filibuster – is stronger than his concerns about the Medicare proposal.“It’s expanding an existing government program, as opposed to creating a whole new one,— Lieberman said. “But it has problems.—Reid needs to again secure 60 votes for the bill in order beat back several more GOP-led filibusters and to bring the bill to final passage. He hopes to do that before Christmas.

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