Medicare Repair Must Be Top Healthcare Priority

Thursday, 20 Jan 2011 09:06 AM

By Matt Towery

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Much ado will be made this week over a vote in the U. S. House to repeal the so-called "Obamacare" law. And rightfully so, given that it passed with almost no scrutiny and has tons of hidden traps and government red tape stuck inside it. Of course, it is unlikely that a repeal would pass the Senate, and compromise will not come easy.

The best method the House has to deal with this monster of a law is to carefully shred it apart at the appropriations level, and that's exactly what I expect. Cut the lifeblood of money off from the new law, and make it unenforceable.

That would be great, but there remains a looming disaster that should have been addressed by the president and congressional Democrats if they truly cared about the real crisis in healthcare in America. Now, with their backs against the wall, they are playing catch-up. But they have created much damage in the meantime and still have not solved the problem.

That problem is Medicare and its reimbursements to doctors.

All of last year, physicians were fearful that a 25 percent reduction in the Medicare reimbursement they receive would go into effect in 2010 as scheduled. The reduction is part of a formula created in the 1990s, when the economy was much stronger. Other reforms were contemplated at the time, and the nation was nearing the passage of balanced budgets.

Knowing that this looming disaster was at their doorstep, the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled House chose to tackle the "giant" problem of a massive healthcare reform bill that would bust the bank. That, even as they ignored the doctors across America who believed that their already-paltry reimbursement levels for treating Medicare patients would soon drop to financially impractical levels.

These physicians were telling senior patients in search of healthcare that they were no longer accepting new patients.

Trust me: This has become an underreported and widespread problem. It has many eligible Medicare patients scrambling to find a healthcare provider who will treat them. And while Congress has placed a temporary bandage on this silent wound many times by extending the current reimbursement levels, physicians are still reading the writing on the wall — and it's written in red ink.

As a result, the rampant fear in the medical community that cuts will ultimately come, if only under the expensive weight of Obamacare, keeps physicians wary of continuing medical practices that include new Medicare patients.

And here is the rub: Over the next decade, a flood of baby boomers will start qualifying for Medicare. That leaves us to ask how they will get treatment and what will be the quality of it even if they do.

When the truthful math was done on how many Americans lacked access to healthcare during the debate over the passage of President Obama's reform, it turned out that there were fewer than was previously reported.

Republicans and the governors of many states begged national Democratic leaders to consider incremental alternatives that would have provided coverage to those who need it, without destroying the rest of the healthcare system.

One might argue that I am way off because the president's healthcare reform bill was designed to make sure that seniors are covered. If so, it failed to take into account that competent doctors have to make a living and cover their costs. That is something that neither the reform plan nor the planned cuts in Medicare took into consideration.

We are a country that is deeply in debt. We're forced to kiss the rear ends of Chinese leaders who hold nearly a trillion dollars of our debt. How many more countries will we become beholden to in future years, and at what cost?

Perhaps instead of tinkering with a costly and unworkable healthcare reform bill, Congress should have figured out how to make what already exists work better, or how to cover more Americans. Medicare is a system that can be funded, and it can persuade the medical community to embrace those patients who are eligible for it.

Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.



© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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