Patient, Senior Advocates Pushing for Medicare Doc-Fix Bill
Senate Democrats this week are hoping to pass legislation to repeal, once and for all, the flawed formula that dictates physician payments under Medicare. And today they’re getting some help from patient advocates and the senior lobby.
This morning, bill sponsor Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) appeared in the Capitol to promote the proposal with leaders from the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctors lobby, and the AARP, the hugely influential seniors group.
On top of that, the Medicare Rights Center sent a letter to Stabenow this week endorsing her bill. Like AARP, the group is concerned that pay cuts to Medicare doctors would lead to access-to-care problems for Medicare patients. “Another temporary band-aid to avoid next year’s cuts does not deliver the stability that both people with Medicare and health reform efforts need,” MRC President Joe Baker wrote.
Permanent repeal of this flawed payment formula is the far-sighted and fiscally responsible course of action and would reinforce the delivery system reforms in pending health care legislation that improve reimbursement for primary care doctors and reward delivery of high-quality, coordinated care.
Yet it’s the fiscal irresponsibility of the Stabenow bill that threatens to kill it. Indeed, the 10-year, $245 billion measure isn’t paid for, meaning that, despite Democratic vows not to add “one dime” to deficits with health reform, the new spending would simply be added to the nation’s already enormous outstanding debt. Last week’s news that deficit spending in fiscal year 2009 hit $1.4 trillion has only fueled the GOP’s insistence that the Stabenow bill be offset with spending cuts or increased revenues.
That opposition, though, is being staged very carefully. Indeed, GOP leaders already agreed to sidestep a cloture vote, which might have created appearances that Republicans are against the doc-fix bill. Or worse — that they don’t care if Medicare patients lose access to care.
That agreement means the bill will go directly to the floor, though a significant hurdle remains: Namely, before the final vote, Democrats will have to waive the Budget Act because the Stabenow bill isn’t paid for. They’ll need 60 votes to do it, and already some moderate Democrats are lining up against the bill.