WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators agreed tentatively Tuesday on a plan to squeeze an additional $35 billion out of Medicare over the next decade and larger sums in the years beyond, according to congressional officials, a step toward fulfilling President Barack Obama’s goal of curbing the growth of health care spending.
Under the plan, an independent commission would be empowered to recommend changes in Medicare annually, to take effect automatically unless Congress enacted an alternative. In addition to saving money, the proposal is aimed at turning the program for those age 65 and over into one that more clearly rewards quality, officials said.
The commission would be required to recommend $35 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare.
There was no immediate estimate on the longer-term effects of the provision, the topic of exhaustive discussion among three Democrats and three Republicans groping for a compromise on legislation atop the administration’s domestic agenda.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss details of the private talks.
The negotiations occurred as White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel spent much of his day in the Capitol attempting to untangle a dispute that has stalled a companion bill in the House.
Progress has been blocked by a group of conservative-to-moderate Democrats seeking to exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance under the bill, and to alter the rules governing a government insurance option, among other changes.
“The legislative process is about give and take,” Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., a leader of the Democratic critics, said during a break in the talks.
“There could be a breakthrough in the next few hours and then again there may not be.”
There was no breakthrough, and the talks ended around 9:30 p.m. EDT with no agreement except to meet again today.