October 20th, 2009
12:59 PM ET
13 years ago

Key Democrats push to reverse steep physician payment cuts

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

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Medicare
soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. DawnL,CA

    It's difficult now to find doctors that will accept Medicare & some of the ones who do accept it are not happy about it. Some could care less what your complaint is & just want you out of their office asap. If their pay is reduced, things will only get worse & medicare patients will have worse medical care & have to travel further to find a doctor who will take them.

    October 20, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. Obie is a Socialist

    $247 Billion added to the debt.

    What more can you ask of the man.

    October 20, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  3. File under "Sarcasm"

    Don't you just love it when the opposite wings of the Democratic Party fight each other? It's like two selfish kids who can't let the other gain any perceived advantage. They don't need the Republicans to be the opposition party, they have one built in.

    October 20, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  4. Ken

    Other "Key Democrats" are fighting to cut $500 billion out of medicare over the next 10 years. I hope the nation survives all of this help we are getting from Washington.

    October 20, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  5. Bedtime for Obonzo

    The Baucus bill claims that some $400 billion of its $900 billion cost will be funded by cutting Medicare. As this story illustrates, that will never happen with the Dems in control. If its passes, get ready for a $400 billion tax hike. No one will escape it.

    October 20, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  6. GOPer

    Are we missing something here? Nah, same old GOPer double-speak...

    Republicans supposedly bemoan cuts (wasteful overbilling by insurance companies) to Medicare Advantage, and yet their party voted against the original Medicare legislation.

    Not to mention, many GOPers (read: FreedomWorks) still want to abolish the Medicare program for seniors altogether (hello teabaggers, working against your own best interests).

    Now, these GOPers decry reversing Medicare cuts to doctors, where the money should stay for patient care, instead of going to greedy insurance companies that overcharge the taxpayers while funding "conservative" campaigns. Hmm...

    October 20, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  7. Mike in MN

    Unless taxes are increased or spending is cut somewhere else this will add 247 billion to the deficits. On the other hand some doctors are already refusing to see Medicare patients because they get paid to little to treat them, some can't afford to treat them. Medicare is a mess, the tax rates to support Medicare are too low even with paying doctors a cut rate for services. Who in their right mind thinks it would be a good idea to create another mess like Medicare called a public option?

    October 20, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  8. seebofubar

    This is actually starting to be funny. There is no consensus at all about what to do and how to do it. And it's not just health care. This administration and congress are wandering aimlessly. I hope that for our sake they get there act togeather quickly, we can't survive much more of these children playing big boys games. Maybe they should all go home, do some growing up then come back in about 20 years.

    October 20, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
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