It's not surprising that quality control and improving payment processes for Medicare were among the first items tackled by the Senate Finance Committee in their newly unveiled health care reform strategy, entitled "Description of Policy Options."   Chairman Max Baucus told reporters: 
"Almost all health providers agree that the we are taking the right approach...The concerns are implementation."
 The recommendations detailed in the committee's report are designed to hold doctors and hospitals more accountable, slow the growth of Medicare, and improve chronic care for seniors in the program.  The New York Times summarizes the proposals this way: 
  • Medicare would increase payments to doctors who regularly exceed "national benchmarks" for the quality of care. Doctors who did not meet federal standards would be subject to financial penalties.
  •  Medicare would pay bonuses to hospitals that provide superior care for heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and selected other conditions. The cost would be offset by cutting Medicare payments to other hospitals. 
  • Doctors could receive extra payments if they hired nurses to manage follow-up care for Medicare patients who were discharged from the hospital after being treated for chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, depression and coronary artery disease. 
  • The government would set national standards for the appropriate use of CAT scans, magnetic resonance and other diagnostic imaging techniques. Medicare would cut payments to doctors who drive up costs by overuse of imaging services. 
  • In addition, Medicare would make a single "bundled payment" for all the services provided to a hospital patient. The bundle would include payments for any nursing home care or home health services that a person received after leaving the hospital, an idea that made some providers uneasy. 
Senators Baucus and Grassley believe improving the delivery of health care in the Medicare program will help drive the broader effort to overhaul our entire healthcare system. We here at the National Committee applaud these efforts but hope it won't stop there.  Congress should also reinvest at least some of the savings found in Medicare back into the program.