July 8, 2005

U.S. taps Medicaid commission to suggest cuts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a move likely to further anger
Democrats, two former state governors - one Republican and one
independent - were named on Friday to head a controversial
panel charged with recommending spending cuts and other
Medicaid reforms.

Tennessee Republican Don Sundquist, whose state has been at
the forefront of efforts to cut back Medicaid spending, and
Maine independent Angus King will lead the 28-member panel. It
will have eight weeks to suggest ways to trim $10 billion over
the next five years from the nation's health program for the
poor, U.S. health officials said.

The appointments are likely to further rile Democrats, who
have boycotted the panel and called it one-sided because only
Bush appointees will have a vote.

Medicaid, a joint federal and state program, serves
millions of poor Americans, including children, the disabled
and many elderly people in nursing homes.

It has come under financial pressure especially as state
budgets tighten. Some states, most notably Tennessee, have
already moved to drop patients from its rolls to save money.

Governors have told the U.S. Congress they need more money
to cope with rising health care costs and growing populations.

"There is consensus that now is the time to reform and
modernize Medicaid," Secretary of Health and Human Services
Mike Leavitt said.

Leavitt left two voting member slots open for current
governors to join later this year. In May, Leavitt said he
would appoint all 15 voting members and 15 nonvoting members.

Leaders from both parties were allowed to appoint four
nonvoting members, but Democrats refused in protest.

Consumer group Families USA questioned how the panel could
make such a big decision in eight weeks, calling it "a sham."

"Today's announcement by the secretary reinforces our
judgment that this commission is designed to promote
predetermined and very destructive Medicaid changes dictated by
the Bush administration," Families USA Executive Director Ron
Pollack said.

The panel was created as part of the U.S. Congress' budget
resolution and is scheduled to deliver its first report by
Sept. 1. The second report is planned for Dec. 31.

Other voting members include representatives from HHS and
other U.S. agencies and policy groups, including the American
Enterprise Institute and the Joint Center Health Policy