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Democratic Senators Concerned About Medicare Expansion

Updated: 11:50 a.m.Twelve Democratic Senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Friday evening to express their concerns with rumored plans to expand Medicare in the chamber’s health care reform bill.

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) told Reid in the letter that the Senate should address disparities in the Medicare reimbursement rate if it is going to include a provision allowing seniors aged 55 to 64 to buy Medicare coverage.

“We appreciate the rationale underlying the proposed Medicare expansion, but fear that provider shortages in states with low reimbursement rates such as ours will make such a program ineffective, or even worsen the problems these states are experiencing,” the group wrote.

The Senators said the current Medicare system, which serves those 65 and older, does not reimburse providers and hospitals in states with higher efficiency rates at the same rate as those in other states.

“Unfortunately, the current Medicare payment structure penalizes those who provide efficient care, while rewarding those who order unnecessary tests and services,” the Senators wrote. “Creating a Medicare buy-in program will exacerbate the existing funding inequity.”

An expansion of Medicare is reportedly under consideration as part of a compromise package that was agreed upon by the 10 Democratic Senators who were seeking to find an alternative to the public insurance option currently in the bill. However, few specifics have emerged about the proposal because the Congressional Budget Office has asked Reid and the participating Senators to keep mum until CBO can complete an official cost estimate of the plan.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who helped lead the group of 10, said Friday he believes most Senators concerns will be allayed once CBO finishes its score and all the details are revealed, possibly early next week.

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