WASHINGTON (CNN) – Top Democrats ramped up their effort Tuesday to reverse $247 billion in projected Medicare reimbursement cuts to doctors over the next decade.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, argued at a Capitol Hill news conference that the move is necessary to create more stability for health care providers in a current climate of uncertainty.
Conservative critics have slammed the move as a fiscally reckless attempt by health care reform advocates to win the support of groups such as the influential American Medical Association at taxpayer expense.
Stabenow was joined by representatives of the AMA, AARP, and the Military Officers Association of America.
"It's important to invest in quality care," Stabenow said. "Now is the time, before we move forward with a new (health care) system, to get this right."
Stabenow argued that reversing the cuts over the long term amounts to little more than an acknowledgment of political reality. Congress has repeatedly overturned physician reimbursement cuts mandated under a Medicare "sustainable growth rate" formula imposed in 1997.
"We know we're not going to have the revenue (supposedly generated under the formula) because we're not going to make the cut," she said.
The Senate is expected to vote later this week on legislation designed to prevent the payment reductions.
Dr. J. James Rohack, head of the AMA, argued that the formula should be permanently scrapped. "There's widespread agreement that this formula is broken," he said.
Without congressional action, he added, physicians could face a cumulative 40 percent reduction in Medicare payments over the next six years - a huge problem as baby boomers who become old enough to qualify for Medicare. Doctors are currently slated to be hit with a 21 percent reimbursement cut early next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has argued that more doctors may start turning away Medicare recipients if the projected cuts are not reversed.
Republicans claim that Democratic efforts to divorce changes in the Medicare reimbursement formula from broader health care reform efforts are part of an attempt to mask the true costs of reform. Democratic leaders have promised that the sweeping health care bills currently moving through Congress will not add to the federal deficit.
"It's incredibly troubling that, on one hand, we have members of Congress arguing that we need to have health care reform in order to get control of the fiscal challenges we face. Yet, on the other hand, (they are) passing legislation that undermines past efforts to control health care costs and would in fact make the deficit situation far worse," said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
–CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report