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House Vote May Protect Medicaid

Times Staff Writer

The House all but guaranteed Tuesday that Medicaid would be exempt from budget cuts this year by instructing its negotiators to oppose trimming the program when they meet with senators to work out a compromise fiscal 2006 budget resolution.

Instead of budget cuts, the House, in a lopsided 348-72 vote, endorsed a commission to study ways of curtailing the Medicaid program’s explosive growth.

“Today’s vote is a victory for 58 million Americans who depend on Medicaid for basic healthcare services,” said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “This vote puts a majority of the House clearly on record as opposing Medicaid cuts.”

Medicaid, along with its sister program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, constituted the biggest spending cut target in the budget that President Bush submitted to Congress in February. Bush called for savings of $12.8 billion in the five years beginning in 2006. Without the cuts, the programs’ cost was estimated at about $1.2 trillion over the five years.

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The House, in its version of the fiscal 2006 budget resolution that it passed in March, had expanded on Bush’s proposal. It instructed its Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid, to find $20 billion worth of spending cuts.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to reject a $14-billion Medicaid cut proposed by its budget committee. So, when members of the House-Senate conference committee meet to reconcile their two versions of the budget, the Senate will start with a budget that leaves Medicaid untouched, and the House conferees will be under orders to keep their hands off the program.

The conferees are expected to hold their first meeting today.

Medicaid, which is funded jointly by the federal government and the states, covers the cost of healthcare for the poor and, increasingly, of long-term care for the elderly.

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