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Second Thoughts On Medicare

Two years ago, while trying to balance the budget, Congress limited Medicare payments for therapy to $1,500 a year. And it did not matter whether patients had adequately improved. Now, some legislators wonder whether that was wise.

CBS Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports on the repercussions of that legislation.

Four painful strokes have drained Dorothy Delacroix's strength. And yet, midway through her recovery, the Medicare payments for her physical therapy stopped.

"I couldn't walk properly," says Delacroix. "I was in need of help."

Dr. Andrew Panagos, of the National Rehabilitation Center says many patients simply will not improve on $1,500.

"For patients who have neurolgic disorders, stroke, Parkinson's Disease or spinal cord injury, that cap will be reached on a three-times-a-week basis within four, five or six weeks," explains Panagos.

California Congressman Pete Stark now regrets the caps on physical therapy, which have affected some 200,000 Medicare recipients.

"There was just a broad meat-ax approach to cutting the budget and there was a downhill rush to see who could cut more money out of more programs," Stark says.

Two years ago, putting limits on therapy sounded good because it promised savings of $1.7 billion. Now, Stark has proposed a bill that would also save money, but would base therapy payments on the illness.

"So that if somebody has a hip transplant or stroke, they will have a higher cap than somebody who has a sprained ankle," says Stark.

The president, meanwhile, says he can extend the life of Medicare partly by cutting costs. But it won't be easy. The last time Washington cut costs, seniors like Dorothy Delacroix lost their physical therapy.