Senators voted 76-16 late Dec. 16 to approve legislation that reduces some Medicare benefits to pay for a new type of tax-favored savings account.
Included in a $41.6 billion tax extenders bill (H.R. 5771), which the White House says President Barack Obama will sign, is language from H.R. 647 to create tax-favored accounts for the benefit of disabled people. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, or H.R. 647, enjoyed bipartisan support in both houses, but some lawmakers said they were concerned about the bill’s use of Medicare cuts. The $2 billion bill is paid for through $638 million in revenue offsets and $1.4 billion in spending cuts.
The ABLE Act, which was introduced in 2013 by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), had 380 co-sponsors in the House and 74 in the Senate. It would make tax-free savings accounts available for people with disabilities and their caretakers to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation. The bill would supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, the Medicaid program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.
Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), lead Senate sponsor of the ABLE Act in the Senate, said in a Dec. 16 statement he looks forward to Obama “quickly signing this bill into law so that countless families and individuals can have the tools they need to live a full life and have a bright future.”
To pay for the bill, the legislation includes a provision that would prohibit Medicare from spending an estimated $444 million over 10 years for vacuum pumps used to treat erectile dysfunction, a cost-saving move that may frustrate people who can’t afford drugs such as Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra. The legislation also includes a provision that would accelerate the application of relative value targets for misvalued services in the Medicare physician fee schedule.
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) said Dec. 3 that he understood why lawmakers were uneasy about using health-care dollars to pay for a tax bill, but he emphasized that the spending cuts were bipartisan, and the bill would benefit too many people to vote against it.