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What Does Super Committee Failure Mean For Healthcare?

The medical community is buzzing with concern this afternoon over what the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction means for healthcare providers and recipients.

Under the ‘trigger’ provisions agreed upon during the August debt default crisis, were the super-committee to fail to arrive at their own formula for getting rid of $1.2 trillion in deficit – a circumstance that has now become reality – Medicare would find itself facing an annual cut of 2 percent each year for a ten year period beginning in 2013.

Should this actually occur it would be disastrous for health of the nation’s senior citizens. Properly configured, the cuts could be made without biting into benefits for the elderly who depend upon the program, but the trigger mechanism does not point to specific areas of the federal health program where the cuts could be targeted in a way that would reduce spending while protecting benefits. Thus, everything would have be cut by the 2% amount, including medical benefits.

Personally, I don’t believe for a moment that the sequester provisions that were the penalty for failure of the deficit committee will ever see the light of day. There are thirteen months to go before these provisions kick in and Congress is already planning way to work around the cuts – particularly with respect to the defense budget. As a result, we can fully expect that the lame-duck session that will take place immediately following next November’s elections will either do away with or drastically modify the anticipated cuts.

It should also be noted that there are many policy experts who believe that had the panel reached an agreement, the damage to Medicare may have been far more serious than the planned 2 percent annual cuts.

There is, however, some real potential for immediate damage as a result of this Congressional failure.

The physician community had hoped that a deal would have brought resolution to the Medicare payment reductions doctors face each and every year as a result of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. While Congress has traditionally delayed the cuts each year, the current decrease scheduled – should it actually happen – would hit physicians with a 27% pay cut for caring for Medicare patients starting January, 2012.

Given the tenor of Congress these days, there seems to be some chance that the Republicans might wish to make their point by allowing the payment reduction to take place.  Should this happen, we’ve got a very big problem on our hands.

Physicians are already unable to make much-if any-profit on what Medicare pays them to treat our nation’s elderly. A near 30% cut would cause many-far too many-doctors to close up shop to seniors who are unable to cover the fees doctors require to stay in business out of their own pockets.  The disastrous result this would lead to is obvious.

Says American Medical Association president, Peter Carmel:

The failure of the deficit committee forces our nation to continue on an unsustainable path that puts current and future generations of Americans at risk for harsh consequences The deficit committee had a unique opportunity to stabilize the Medicare program for America’s seniors now and for generations to come.

Once again, Congress failed to stop the annual charade of scheduled Medicare physician payment cuts and short-term patches, which spends more taxpayer money to perpetuate a policy everyone agrees is fatally flawed.

Via Medpage Today

As I often point out, doctors are the one element of our healthcare system that are irreplaceable. Having hospitals are of little value when there are no physicians walking the halls to care for us. Drugs aren’t going to reach those who need them if there are no doctors to write the prescriptions.

Let’s hope that Congress is not so foolish as to make their point by hurting physicians and the seniors who  depend upon them.

By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, November 21, 2011

November 22, 2011 - Posted by | Health Care | , , , ,

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