Weekly Columns

Should the Deficit Reduction Package Include Health Care Reform?

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Washington, October 5, 2011 | comments

Tennesseans understand that the federal government has been living way beyond its means for too long, and that it is time to rein in wasteful Washington spending to reduce the deficit.  As part of the Budget Control Act that passed in August, Congress appointed a deficit reduction committee – made up of both Democrats and Republicans – charged with proposing concrete recommendations that will reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion. As part of the deficit reduction package, I think we should act to ensure patient access to their doctor by repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and implementing a permanent fix for the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which sets Medicare payments to physicians for the care they provide.

In September, I sent a letter to the co-chairs of the deficit reduction committee – Congressman Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, and Senator Murray, a Democrat from Washington State – asking that they consider repealing the IPAB as part of their deficit reduction package.  The fifteen unelected bureaucrats that would make up the IPAB would come between the patient-doctor relationships and threaten access to care. This board has serious implications that will negatively affect our health care system, and it strips away accountability to the American people by bypassing Congressional oversight. IPAB is simply the wrong solution for addressing budgetary challenges in our Medicare system, and its repeal must be considered with urgency before it gets too expensive to overturn.

In addition to my letter, twenty medical specialty groups on Tuesday urged the Congressional supercommittee to also repeal the IPAB. In their letter, they state that “the price tag for repealing the IPAB is relatively small, so Congress should seize this moment and repeal the IPAB now before the cost to do so becomes prohibitive and access to care problems become acute.” They go on to say that “because IPAB funding is authorized to begin on October 1, 2011 and board members can now be appointed, there is urgency for repeal before this board is established.”

Even more concerning, the president is trying to strengthen the IPAB, even though it is opposed by over 200 Democrats and Republicans who have cosponsored legislation for its repeal. By repealing the controversial IPAB now, we will ensure that medical decisions are made by patients and their doctor, not unelected Washington bureaucrats.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is a permanent fix for the SGR. I joined other Members in writing the supercommittee about the urgent need to fix the flawed Medicare physician payment system.  If Congress fails to do so, patients will have an urgent access to care crisis. Physicians are currently threatened with a 29.5 percent cut in their payments unless Congress can end the current budgetary schemes. A cut of this magnitude would leave many, if not most, Medicare patients without access to physicians. Fixing the SGR will help bring stability to our medical system.

It is my hope that we will be able to fix our health care system in a bipartisan way, and that is why I felt it necessary to address these important issues with the bipartisan deficit reduction committee. While spending cuts and reducing the deficit are necessary for economic growth, implementing reforms and addressing the flaws in our health care system are equally as important to our economy. I urge swift action on the repeal of the IPAB and a permanent fix to the SGR.

Please feel free to contact my office if we can be of assistance to you or your family.  You can contact my office by mail, email or phone.  Our contact information can be found on our website, www.roe.house.gov.
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