The bill approved by the House to raise Medicare taxes to finance catastrophic health insurance coverage may get bogged down in the Senate because of the legislators' heavy work load and growing opposition to the proposal.
Many federal workers and retirees already pay for catastrophic health insurance. They are worried that the House plan that could increase Medicare premiums $500 or more per year without giving them any coverage they don't already have under their civil service health plans.
Under the House bill people over 65 would get greatly enhanced protection from the costs of major illness. It would be financed by higher Medicare premiums based on an individual's taxable income. Because Social Security benefits are largely untaxed, individuals who get most of their income from Social Security would pay lower premiums than retirees (including most federal, state and local government workers) whose benefits come primarily from fully taxed civil service pensions.
The bill passed the House before the Labor Day recess. But since then opposition has grown from retiree groups whose members would be hardest hit, and from people who think that the plan costs too much or doesn't go far enough.
Originally, federal retiree groups and federal and postal unions had hoped to get the Senate to modify its bill so that U.S. retirees would pay less for the premiums, or could opt out of the program -- without losing other Medicare benefits -- if they already had catastrophic coverage. But odds are growing that the Senate may not even pass the catastrophic coverage bill this year.
Congressional sources say that mail is running heavily against the House-passed plan, and mail generated by federal worker-retiree groups is almost universally against the plan.
The Senate may not even begin work on its own plan until early October at the soonest.
Meanwhile, units of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Post Office-Civil Service Committee plan to hold hearings to assess the financial impact of the bill on federal retirees.Style Notes
Language lovers sometimes complain that this column drops an "e" when referring to federal employes, but not when describing such groups as the American Federation of Government Employees or things like the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The reason is that a single "e" is this newspaper's accepted style for the word "employe," but organizations' spellings of their names are not changed.
With that background, consider the tribulations of the Public Health Service official assigned to decide whether to capitalize the words "fiscal year" in official correspondence. Although the memo starts out "Punctuation (RE: Fiscal Year)" it ends up lowering the boom on fiscal year:
"In the newly received Office of the Secretary Correspondence Manual, they reference fiscal year, and recommend that it not be capitalized.
"Since we follow the guidance of ASH (Assistant Secretary, Health), I requested an opinion on this issue from them. It was their decision that all agencies follow the recommendation of the Office of the Secretary.
"Therefore, hereafter we will NOT initial cap 'fiscal year.' As demonstrated on the attached sheet, we will write fiscal year 1987, but FY 1987." Staying in style isn't easy!