Efforts to overhaul Medicare will wait until next year. House and Senate leaders decided to spend the rest of this year trying to figure ways to pump cash back into Medicare that had been stripped from it by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
The development means that costly new initiatives -- mainly, a prescription-drug benefit -- are on hold. Various proposals in Congress would provide between $12 billion and $15 billion to increase payments to HMOs, teaching hospitals, and other providers.
Prospects for a prescription-drug benefit grew dimmer with every week Congress wrestled with the greater question of health care reform. Expect the push to be renewed next year.