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July 09, 2008

Inhofe Says Election Year Politics Trumped Sound Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) today issued the following statement following passage of the Medicare Bill.

“For the past several months, I have consistently said the Senate must do better than the Democrat proposal on Medicare,” Senator Inhofe said. “I was hopeful that a bi-partisan approach would yield the best results – not only for our doctors, but for our elderly. Unfortunately, during an election year, partisan politics often trumps sound policy. As a result, Democrats seized on an issue where they saw an opportunity to score political points and refused to reach across the aisle to allow for a strong bipartisan victory.

“Each time the Democrats brought forward their bill without any attempt to compromise, I expressed my dissatisfaction. I have repeatedly raised concerns that the Democrats’ bill drastically cuts the Medicare Advantage Program, in which almost 75,000 Oklahomans are enrolled.  The $14 billion cuts to this program over the next ten years will hit seniors in rural areas the hardest.
“Oklahomans know I have a long record of supporting Medicare. If today’s vote was really about supporting Medicare and not about partisan politics, I would have proudly voted in favor. Yet from all of the partisan fighting we have seen from in Washington over the past few months on this bill, it is clear that this bill had little to do with good policy and everything to do with election year politics. Simply put, I refused to allow partisan politics to dictate my vote.

"While I believe this bill could have done more for Oklahoma, it does include continued funding for the Special Diabetes Programs requested by the Oklahoma Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, continues outpatient physical therapy funding under Medicare, and expands the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility (FLEX) grant program, which provides support for Critical Access Hospitals that care predominately for rural areas."

Since 2002, Congress has acted annually to prevent reimbursement cuts, ensuring that physicians continue to get reimbursement for treating Medicare patients.  Each time, Senator Inhofe has voted to prevent cuts to physician reimbursements.  Further, as a member of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, Senator Inhofe has long worked to ensure Oklahomans and rural America receives the best possible health care.
Unfortunately this year, which happens to be an election year, Democrats in the Senate are only playing election year politics with physicians and Medicare beneficiaries.  

What is the most disappointing about this entire exercise is that each piece of legislation on this issue that has been brought before the Senate ensures that Medicare reimbursements to physicians are not cut.  In fact, all three bills handle the physician reimbursement in exactly the same way.  However, the Senate Republican bill was better in how it handled Medicare Advantage and other Medicare benefits.  
On June 12, Senate Democrats brought up S. 3101 to address the physician reimbursement issue, but the bill also changes treatment options under the Medicare Advantage program, cutting the program significantly.  Republicans tried to bring up their own bill, S. 3118, which not only addresses physician reimbursement in the same way as S. 3101, but also does not change treatment options under Medicare Advantage and expands rural health coverage.
On June 26, Senate Democrats brought up H.R. 6331, the House Democratic version that also addresses the physician reimbursement issue, but again detrimentally changes treatment options under the Medicare Advantage program. Senate Republicans tried to once again bring up their own bill, but Senate Democrats rejected to that request.  Senate Republicans moved twice on the day the Senate adjourned to extend the current reimbursement program 30 days in order to avoid missing the July 1st deadline, but, unfortunately, Senator Reid objected to both requests.
The Republicans recently offered to again vote on extending the current reimbursement program another 31 days to work through any differences.  Senators Baucus and Grassley had in fact worked out a compromise bill, which Senator Reid refused to allow the Senate to consider.
Again, today the Republican moved on the Senate floor to extend the current program.  Reid personally objected.
The President has promised to veto the bill because of the policy changes to the Medicare Advantage Program.  


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