WASHINGTON – Maryland’s eight representatives voted along straight party lines Thursday evening during House passage of the GOP Medicare reform bill.
All four Maryland Republicans supported the reform measure, which would slow the growth of the health care program for seniors and the disabled by $270 billion over the next seven years.
The bill passed the House, 231-201. The vote came after the House rejected a Democratic alternative that would have saved only $90 billion over seven years.
The Senate has not yet acted on its version of the bill.
President Clinton has threatened to veto the House measure.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, said the GOP Medicare reform bill would save the program for other generations.
“My husband just turned 65. My mom 95. I have nine kids, and I want it to be in good shape for all of us,” she said.
But Maryland Democrats said the plan’s deep cuts would be used to fund a $245 billion tax cut for the rich.
“You don’t have to vote for the extreme approach that gives a tax cut to the rich,” said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, argued the cuts in Medicare have no relationship to tax cuts.
The bill would limit increases in payments to most hospitals and give seniors the option of choosing a managed care plan or keeping their existing plan. Managed care, often called HMOs, would allow seniors to choose a doctor from a prescribed pool and receive subsidized doctor’s visits.
“Seniors can take advantage of buying prescription drugs at a drastically reduced rate,” Gilchrest said. He added the seniors could have a plan similar to that of Congress.
Democrats argued that seniors would not benefit from a managed care plan and may have to choose a doctor they can afford, instead of one they want.
“This legislation shreds the only safety net for millions of seniors who would otherwise be without health care, by imposing second-class service at increased rates,” said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, in a press release. “There’s a loss of quality there.”
Morella said seniors will not be forced into a managed care plan.
“Those pleased with what they have can stay,” Morella said. “And each year there’s an open season and they can change if they aren’t satisfied.”
The plan would limit increases in payments to hospitals, saving $133 billion over seven years. Rural hospitals would not be included in this cap. Gilchrest said he visited hospitals in his district because he has a number of rural constituents, but that the changes would not hurt their resources. -30-