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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Nelson's 'Gator-aid' going bye-bye



WASHINGTON -- House and Senate leaders on Thursday said a provision sparing about 800,000 Floridians from cuts in Medicare Advantage will not be a part of the final health care bill, a blow to Sen. Bill Nelson.

But the Florida Democrat was not ready to concede defeat. "It's just in a different form," he said without elaborating, adding he was studying the numbers.

Branded "Gator-aid" by critics, Nelson said he wanted to grandfather in those who already get the extra coverage under Medicare Advantage, such as eye care and gym memberships.

It was one of several provisions senators got that benefited their home states and added to a political and public backlash that nearly dashed hopes for health care reform. "People are enraged. They should be. It's sleaze. It's Chicago style sausage making," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an early critic of Nelson's add-on.

The proposal even put Nelson at odds with other Democrats, who say Medicare Advantage costs have compounded the nation's health care woes. Nationwide, more than 10 million people are enrolled in the private plans, compared with nearly 45 million mostly elderly people covered under traditional Medicare. 

The government is paying Medicare Advantage providers 14 percent more than typical fee-for-service Medicare providers (a contrast from years ago when it was cheaper than Medicare) and companies get to pocket some of that while providing some of the extras Nelson described.

All Medicare beneficiaries pay an extra $3 a month in premiums to subsidize Medicare Advantage, "creating a new form of inequity," according to a report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which provides research for Congress.

Despite Nelson's continued study, top Democrats in both chambers said the Gator-aid and other deals will be swept away. "That is my belief, that everything is out," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:30pm]


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