The failure of Congress to act on the Medicare “doc fix” has led to protests from medical organizations and the American Association of Retired People who have pointed out the harm this will do to the Medicare program and people dependent upon Medicare for their health care. The American Academy of Family Practitioners has called on Congress to stop harming patients and do their job. The American College of Physicians has blasted Congress for causing “Irreparable damage to Medicare” as seniors and military families face loss of access to health care. AARP sent the following letter to every member of Congress urging action on Medicare, warning that their inaction “threatens access to physician services for millions of Medicare beneficiaries.”
On behalf of millions of AARP members, I urge you to immediately pass legislation that ensures seniors have access to their physicians, and provides much needed fiscal relief to the states and to unemployed individuals.
Regrettably, given Congress’s failure to reach timely agreement on a Medicare physician pay package, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has now been forced to implement a draconian 21.3 percent reduction in their reimbursements. This cut threatens access to physician services for millions of Medicare beneficiaries – especially those living in rural and other underserved areas.
While Congress continues to debate temporary patchwork solutions, people on Medicare are growing increasingly anxious about whether they will be able to find a doctor when they need one. Seniors, who have paid into Medicare their entire working lives, deserve the peace of mind of knowing they will be able to find a doctor who will treat them.
AARP urges Congress to act immediately to stabilize doctor reimbursement rates for as long as possible until a permanent solution can be found. For nearly a decade, Medicare patients and the doctors who treat them have been held hostage by short-term patches to an unworkable Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. In the months to come, we look forward to working with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to repeal the SGR formula and replace it with a permanent physician payment system for Medicare that rewards value and ends the uncertainty for patients and providers alike.
In addition, enhanced Medicaid funding to states to assist them with the added costs of providing health coverage to low income individuals and for home and community based services must be extended.
Finally, we urge the extension of unemployment benefits for those unable to find jobs during this economic downturn.
AARP members are counting on you to address these critical issues immediately to protect their health and economic security.
Medical blogs have been protesting the failure of Congress to resolve this problem. For example, Dr. Rob warns that Congress is playing “a great big game of chicken.”
- The house is playing chicken with the senate.
- The Democrats are playing chicken with the Republicans.
- They aren’t in the cars themselves, we are. Doctors and patients are careening toward destruction in the name of political gamesmanship.
Surely they will flinch. Surely someone will understand the consequences of the crash. But you know what? Sometimes each side expects the others will be the ones who flinch. Sometimes nobody flinches. Sometimes the cars crash and people are killed.
There are two potential ways to resolve this deadlock. The quickest would be for Nancy Pelosi to go along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), the Chair of the Education and Labor health panel, and allow the House to vote on the temporary fix passed in the Senate last week.
Nancy Pelosi has been insisting on a different course by attaching the Medicare “doc fix” to other unrelated legislation. The Senate is attempting to pass legislation which includes some of Pelosi’s goals, but it is questionable if the Senate could pass such legislation without watering it down to the point where Pelosi would not find it acceptable.
For Nancy Pelosi to be the one who, at present, is blocking passage of this legislation might be political suicide for the Democrats, risking turning over control of Congress to the Republicans in November. The Democrats are already on shaky ground with seniors. As Ezra Klein pointed out earlier today, health care reform has become more popular since passage–except with seniors. The Democrats cannot afford to further alienate the senior vote, which tends to turn out more heavily in off year elections than the younger voters who are more likely to stick with the Democrats.