Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doctor Shortage - Medicare Cuts - What Would Happen if the Shoe Were on the Congressional Foot?

What would happen if Congress had to abide by a Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula? It would work like this. Each year House and Senate members and their staff would be dunned by roughly the percentage that spending exceeded tax revenues, with unfunded expenditures thrown in for good measure. The formula would be more complicated than that – so complicated nobody could figure it out – just like the present SGR for doctors.

The cuts would kick in every March 1. This year they would be 21.2%, but they would grow greater each year. Last year’s SGR for doctors was 10.6%. What would happen? Would Government grind to a halt? Would public programs be suspended? Would government employees be fired? Would there be a mass exodus of politicians from Washington?

Of course not. Patches and fixes would immediately be applied. Government business would start up pronto. And a bipartisan commission would be appointed to oversee the matter.

That’s basically what will happen with Medicare cuts for doctors. The Obama administration will suspend Medicare payments to doctors for 10 days, and payments will resume to avoid a “meltdown” of the system. In the meantime, the Senate will work out some messy solution (last fall, the House passed a bill – HR 3961- that would not only repeal SGR but provide a 1.2% increase).

If the Senate were not to pass a fix (it will, just as it has every year since 2003), America’s seniors, Medicaid recipients, and military families and retirees with Tricare health insurance payments who are tied to Medicare, will suffer.

With no fix, members of Congress would witness an unimaginable political uproar and health care crisis as doctors went out of business (26% of solo practitioners in a recent survey say their practices are already in serious trouble) , 82% of primary care practitioners say their practices would be unsustainable, and some 40% indicate they would no longer accept new Medicare patients. A survey by MedPAC (the Medical Payment Advisory Commission) found one of four Medicare patients seeking a primary care doctor is having a hard time finding one.

The shoe will never be on the other foot. You cannot put the same shoe on every foot, particularly on a politician’s foot, for politicians will reward themselves handsomely through perpetuity. One man’s feet is another man’s poison.

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