By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 12/4/2009 12:17:38 PM ET 2009-12-04T17:17:38

Claim: The Senate bill doesn't cut Medicare benefits, it only cuts the growth rate of spending on providers.

In the Senate debate this week, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D- Montana, said, "It is not true that this legislation cuts Medicare benefits. That is not true. The other side would like you to believe that is true by using the words they choose." The Democrats' bill, Baucus said, "doesn't cut benefits. It does reduce the rate of growth that hospitals would otherwise receive. It does reduce the rate of growth that medical device manufacturers might receive." He added, "We have to slow the rate of growth in some of these providers because they are getting paid too much." He said the American Hospital Association is "OK with reducing the rate of growth of hospital payments by $155 billion… because they are going to make it up on volume. This legislation provides coverage for many more Americans." Can spending be cut without cutting benefits?

Fact or fiction?
Unclear. If the bill became law, the amount of benefits to be paid to Medicare beneficiaries would be larger in 2019 than it is today, partly because spending per beneficiary would increase at an average annual rate of roughly 2 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But Congress would cut payments to providers, for example, cutting payments to hospitals by $150 billion over 10 years. "Do you think seniors will notice that? I do," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R- Okla., a doctor. "If you have acute shortness of breath and press the (hospital call) button, the available nurses will not be there." The CBO warned in December 2008 that reducing payments to hospitals and home health providers, as the bill proposes, "might cause some providers to lower the quality of care they provided" and "could lead some home health agencies to reduce the amount or quality of the services they provided."

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