Mary Agnes Carey, associate editor of CQ HealthBeat, discusses SCHIP negotiations between Senate and House leaders, acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems' priorities for the agency and Senate committee approval of several spending bills that include health care provisions in this week's "Health on the Hill from kaisernetwork and CQ."

According to Carey, congressional Democrats may be close to a tentative agreement on SCHIP legislation that resembles the Senate's version of the bill. The Senate bill would increase the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents per pack to provide an additional $35 billion for the program over five years. The proposed reduction in payments to Medicare Advantage plans, included in the House version, are not expected to be part of the final proposal, Carey says, but there is a possibility that they could return as stand-alone legislation or as part of an omnibus bill later this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that negotiators are continuing work on an agreement that could be taken to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses to determine support for a bill. President Bush has said he would veto the House and Senate bills because they would exceed the $5 billion SCHIP expansion he proposed in his budget plan. Separately, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would overturn SCHIP regulations that limit states' ability to enroll uninsured children from families with incomes greater than 250% of the federal poverty level, Carey says.

Meanwhile, Weems said transparency at CMS will be a priority, Carey says. For example, Weems said he intends to post on Medicare's Web site the corrective action plans the agency negotiates with MA plans that violate marketing or other Medicare regulations. Weems is awaiting Senate confirmation.

Lastly, Carey discusses legislation approved by a Senate panel that would bring American Indian health care programs into Medicare and Medicaid, limit premiums that tribal members could be assessed and require that American Indian health care organizations are eligible to more fully participate in those programs. According to Carey, the bill would reauthorize the American Indian health programs through 2017 at a cost of $16 billion over five years and $35 billion over 10 years. The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved a fiscal year 2008 defense spending bill that would add $948.9 million to the Bush administration's request for military health care programs.

The complete audio version of "Health on the Hill," transcript and resources for further research are available online at kaisernetwork.

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation© 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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