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GOP THWARTS DEMO MEDICARE PLAN

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Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday voted down a Democratic attempt to add consumer protections to the new Medicare managed care plans that GOP reforms would create for the elderly.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said the panel was deciding whether "to give insurance companies all the power, or whether you're going to give consumers some power and some protection."But Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the Democrats were just trying "to reinstate a very cobwebby, bureaucratic structure" on the new, private health plans that would compete for Medicare business as part of the GOP's blueprint for saving $270 billion over seven years.

The Republicans say their package would allow the elderly to stay in traditional, fee-for-service Medicare but give them the option of switching to new, private "Medicare Plus" plans that might offer better benefits in exchange for restrictions on their choice of doctors.

After working past midnight Monday, the Ways and Means Com-mittee embarked on another marathon session Tuesday to meet the Republicans' timetable of approving the Medicare reforms by Wednesday night. A second panel with overlapping jurisdiction, the House Commerce Committee, was sitting down to work tonight.