The overall Republican strategy seems to screw up as many things as possible and then try to blame the Democrats. Conservatives have been falsely claiming that ObamaCare is forcing doctors to stop accepting Medicare when it has actually been the Republicans who are to blame. Under the current flawed payment formula, unless Congress votes to override the formula doctors will receive a 21% cut. As action from Congress is required to prevent this, Republicans can (and on several occasions in the past several months have) block passage of bills to prevent the automatic cut despite being in the minority.
Medscape reports that Republicans once again blocked efforts to prevent cuts which technically began on June 1, but which have been postponed by delaying processing of claims so far this month:
In a last-minute shock to physicians, the Senate voted today against postponing a scheduled 21% reduction in Medicare reimbursement to physicians and other health providers.
A compromise proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was defeated largely along party lines, with no Republican support. The compromise was put forward after the Senate had rejected a $140 billion finance package yesterday that would have delayed the cut in Medicare payments to physicians until 2012, along with measures to extend unemployment benefits and provide $24 billion to states to cope with their Medicaid programs.
The lower-spending compromise bill, dropping the total cost to $118 billion and the overall deficit impact from $79 billion to $55 billion, would have delayed the planned Medicare cuts and provided a 2.2% raise for physicians through November 30, rather than for the 19 months mandated by the earlier bill.
It still was not enough, however, to win over the 60 senators needed to end debate on the issue under Senate rules. Fifty-six senators voted in favor, with 40 opposed. Opponents argued that the overall measure was not offset by spending cuts and added too much to the deficit.
Barack Obama had urged Congress to avoid these cuts in his weekly address last Saturday:
More than a decade ago, Congress set up a formula that governs how doctors get paid by the Medicare program. The intent was to slow the growth of Medicare costs, but the result was a formula that has proposed cutting payments for America’s doctors year after year after year. These are cuts that would not only jeopardize our physicians’ pay, but our seniors’ health care.
Since 2003, Congress has acted to prevent these pay cuts from going into effect. These votes were largely bipartisan, and they succeeded when Democrats ran Congress and when Republicans ran Congress – which was most of the time.
This year, a majority of Congress is willing to prevent a pay cut of 21% — a pay cut that would undoubtedly force some doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients altogether. But this time, some Senate Republicans may even block a vote on this issue. After years of voting to defer these cuts, the other party is now willing to walk away from the needs of our doctors and our seniors.
Now, I realize that simply kicking these cuts down the road another year is not a long-term solution to this problem. For years, I have said that a system where doctors are left to wonder if….
… they’ll get fairly reimbursed makes absolutely no sense. And I am committed to permanently reforming this Medicare formula in a way that balances fiscal responsibility with the responsibility we have to doctors and seniors. In addition, we’re already taking significant steps to slow the growth of Medicare costs through health insurance reform – not by targeting doctors and seniors, but by eliminating 50% of the waste, fraud, and abuse in the system by 2012. This not only strengthens Medicare, it saves taxpayer dollars.
I’m absolutely willing to take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path. But I’m not willing to do that by punishing hard-working physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare. That’s just wrong. And that’s why in the short-term, Congress must act to prevent this pay cut to doctors.
If they don’t act, doctors will see a 21% cut in their Medicare payments this week. This week, doctors will start receiving these lower reimbursements from the Medicare program. That could lead them to stop participating in the Medicare program. And that could lead seniors to lose their doctors.
We cannot allow this to happen. We have to fix this problem so that our doctors can get paid for the life-saving services they provide and keep their doors open. We have to fix this problem to keep the promise of Medicare for our seniors so that they get the health care they deserve. So I urge Republicans in the Senate to at least allow a majority of Senators and Congressmen to stop this pay cut. I urge them to stand with America’s seniors and America’s doctors. Thanks.
Republicans have suddenly become concerned about the deficit after running the government on credit while in power. Not only have they been blocking modest increases in payments, they have blocked efforts at simply keeping Medicare payments at current levels.
Update: Senate Passes Six Month Fix