Supercommittee’s failure leaves little time to avert Medicare cut

You’ve probably heard by now that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the “supercommittee,” failed in its efforts to reach a budget compromise. The 12 congressional lawmakers had until Thanksgiving to formulate a plan to trim at least $1.2 trillion in federal spending, and health care advocates hoped they’d also include a fix for the flawed Medicare payment formula, the SGR, in this plan.

This wasn’t wishful thinking; years of temporary fixes weigh heavily on the deficit. Plus, the committee had been granted special authorization to find and score savings wherever they could. Up until this point, insiders promised that committee members were seriously considering including an SGR fix, which would prevent a planned 27.4-percent cut in Medicare physician payment come Jan. 1. Not only is this cut still on the table, automatic reductions triggered by the supercommittee’s inaction will cut another 2 percent in Medicare payment in 2013.

A health care lobbyist told the Associated Press that “lawmakers of both parties wanted to deal with the cuts to doctors, but a fundamental partisan divide over tax increases blocked progress of any kind.”

In failing to act, they have “condemned millions of elderly and disabled Americans to continued health insecurity,” said AAFP President Glen R. Stream, M.D., M.B.I., in a statement. “This is no way to address the federal budget deficit. Nor is it the way to serve their constituents. Allowing the Medicare physician payment issue to fester worsens the health insecurity of millions of elderly patients and military families.” Read the full statement here.

With a little more than a month to go before the end of the year, there’s still time to pass another one- or two-year “doc fix,” and entering the 2012 campaign season, a short-term patch has wide support among Congressional lawmakers. But the question remains whether Congress as a whole can overcome the same gridlock that paralyzed the supercommittee.

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