Musgrove, Wicker squabble over Medicare

Published 1:16 am Friday, July 4, 2008

Democratic U.S. Senate challenger Ronnie Musgrove says a recent vote by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker could hurt Medicare patients and the doctors who treat them.

Wicker says Democrats are playing politics with the federal health care program that covers the disabled and people 65 and older.

During a campaign conference call with reporters Wednesday, Musgrove said Wicker’s vote would hurt thousands of Mississippians and could put some physicians out of business.

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Musgrove, a former Mississippi governor, said Republicans are trying to help private insurance companies that “are being overpaid to the detriment of Medicare.”

“Another example of why Washington needs a change: Special interests getting favors that the rest of us don’t get,” Musgrove said.

Wicker defends his vote, saying Democrats are pushing a plan that cut Medicare coverage for more than 27,000 Mississippians.

“That is a horrible and unnecessary choice, and one that is the result of the majority party deciding to play a game of political chicken at the expense of the elderly,” Wicker said in a news release.

The U.S. Senate fell one vote short last week of the 60 it needed to move forward on a bill that would’ve stopped a scheduled 10.6 percent cut in fees for physicians who treat Medicare patients.

Mississippi’s two senators — Wicker and Republican Thad Cochran — voted against moving forward with the bill.

Another Medicare vote could come after Congress returns to Washington next week.

Mississippi’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour, appointed Wicker to the Senate after the GOP’s Trent Lott resigned last December. Wicker is serving temporarily, and he and Musgrove face off in the Nov. 4 general election to decide who will serve the final four years of the six-year term Lott started.

Musgrove and Wicker each had a Mississippi physician to back up his own position.

Dr. Ed Carruth of Meridian, a retired family physician who now works as an administrator for Rush Health Systems, said many doctors run their offices as small businesses and they’d suffer if Medicare payments were cut.

“The real ones that suffer are our elderly and disabled citizens of our state,” Carruth said during the conference call with Musgrove.

In a separate interview, Dr. Randy Easterling of Vicksburg, president-elect of the Mississippi State Medical Association, agreed that cuts would hurt. Easterling said he disagrees with the vote Wicker and Cochran took last week, but he supports the Mississippi senators’ efforts to try to block cuts in fees paid to physicians for treating Medicare patients. He said MSMA and the American Medical Association will continue working with senators to try to solve the problem.

“Our position is that we want these cuts fixed, and how Congress fixes this is up to Congress,” Easterling said.