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|Alexander downplays proposed Medicare cuts|
Congress is set to begin reviewing President Bush's proposed 2009 budget, which some claim would have an adverse impact on Medicare recipients in Louisiana.
The Louisiana Hospital Administration opposes the proposed budget, saying it includes $1.6 billion in Medicare reductions statewide.
LHA says the 5th congressional district of northeast and central Louisiana could see up to $270 million in Medicare cuts.
LHA said Bush's proposed budget would "severely affect healthcare services for the elderly in our state."
"Since the budget mark-up will likely occur the first week in March, we will be fighting vigorously to stop these cuts and to protect the services our communities and the elderly rely on," said John Matessino, LHA's president and CEO.
Fifth District U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander said the proposed budget represents a suggested spending plan by the president. He says Bush's proposed spending on Medicare is more of a reduction in the growth of Medicare than an actual cut.
Of the budget proposal, Alexander said it's an attempt by Bush to address a significant problem.
"We have gotten to the point where entitlement programs are consuming half of the federal budget," said Alexander, R-Quitman. "In the next 10 years, the national budget may devote 60 percent to these entitlement programs."
"We've got a population that is aging and the numbers are growing," Alexander said. "We're increasing in the number of people who need healthcare, and the president has said we need a slowdown in the growth, not a cut."
According to Alexander, the country must come up with better ways to fund these necessary programs, but he says Congress is concerned with any potential reduction or slowdown in these services.
"We're trying to figure out where to get the money to fund these needed programs, and there are people who are looking for creative ways where the recipients can get their healthcare without putting the nation in a bind," Alexander said. "Every time we see a reduction, the state will suffer because we have so many Medicaid and Medicare recipients."
"But, we cannot sustain the growth that these programs are providing right now," Alexander added.
Alexander believes the country must look at more inventive ways to encourage young people to invest in healthcare insurance premiums while they are healthy and do not need as much medical treatment.
"Right now we don't have any incentives to do that, and the numbers (of Medicare recipients) are stacking up on us," Alexander said. "Those numbers are starting to compound problems and we've got to do something about it now."
"It's not an easy solution, and it's a political hot potato," he said.
Alexander believes if the problem is not addressed, and more and more of the federal budget is devoted to entitlement programs, there will be less money for other programs.
In the meantime, Alexander stressed that Bush's proposed budget is a suggestion to reduce the growth of the Medicare system. He admits many will view it as cuts.
"If someone each year gets a $100 raise, but one year his boss tells him, he'll only give out a $75 raise, that person will tell his friends and family he got a $25 cut," Alexander said. "It's not an actual cut he is proposing, but it's real money and it can wind up being a real cut."
Over the next several months, Congress will review the president's proposed 2009 budget, which could be approved by late summer.
It will be up to the House Committee on the Budget, which Alexander serves on, to either approve or reject Bush's proposed budget.
"If we reject it, and say, 'We can't sustain those cuts,' then we have to come up with the money for these programs," he said.
Congress will work to pass the budget by mid-summer, according to Alexander, and forward it to the House Appropriations Committee. The overall budget could be approved by August, he said.
Bush's budget is expected to top $3 trillion.