By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, Mar 26 a bi-partisan plan to ensure seniors who rely on Medicare aren’t denied access to doctors passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. Without the legislation the amount of money that doctors receive for treating Medicare patients would have dropped by 21 percent after April 1 due to automatic cost cutting legislation passed by a GOP controlled Congress in 1997. U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) voted in favor of the plan. The Alabama Congresswoman said this proposal is a long-term solution that makes sense.
Rep. Roby said, “Seventeen times now, Congress has put a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ fix on the Medicare reimbursement issue. “It’s time for a solution that is both lasting and healthy for our country over the long term. This plan makes sure seniors who rely on Medicare aren’t denied access to doctors.”
In 1997, the Congress passed the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR, which tied Medicare reimbursements to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, health care costs have grown faster than the economy.
In 2003, Congress began passing short-term measures to temporarily prevent the cuts from happening. Seventeen of these short-term “doc fix” proposals have passed since then. H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, repeals SGR and replaces it with a new system that hopes to reward doctors for quality care instead of patient volume. The bill also extends funding for both the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers for two years. The bill costs $210 billion over ten years including $70 billion by raising fees on Medicare beneficiaries, including means testing of high-income beneficiaries. This plan is expected to save taxpayers almost $1 billion over 10 years versus continuing perpetual temporary fixes.
Rep. Roby said, “I’m not for raising taxes, as some have insisted must happen for this to get done,” Rep. Roby said. “I’m for structural changes that ensure our seniors can count on healthcare and make fiscal sense long term. Now we have a solution that meets the criteria.” “Every year since I’ve been in Congress, we have had to ‘kick the can down the road’ on Medicare SGR reform. I’m pleased we can finally deliver a good product, one that is a great first step toward more meaningful entitlement reforms.”
President Barack H. Obama (D) said in a speech later that day in Birmingham, “The good news is that today the House of Representatives passed a bill. No, no. You think I’m joking. I’m not. It was a bipartisan bill designed to make sure that doctors in our Medicare system get paid on time; that the Children’s Health Insurance Program continues to work.”
Pres. Obama said, “I called the Speaker, John Boehner, and the Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and I said, congratulations, this is how Congress is supposed to work. They came together; they compromised. They had a good idea. They didn’t get everything they wanted. They passed a bill. Now the Senate hopefully will pass the bill, and I’ll get to sign it, and the American people will be better off for it. And I thought, this is great. Let’s do more of this. Let’s make it happen. So I want to give John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi credit. They did good work today. And they deserve credit, and the House of Representatives deserves credit for that.”
Congressman and medical doctor Phil Roe (R from Tennessee) said in the weekly Republican Address: “This week, the House passed bipartisan legislation to permanently repeal this formula (SGR). Instead, we’re delivering the first real entitlement reform in nearly two decades.”
Rep. Roe said, “These reforms ask higher-income seniors, like myself, to pay a little more for their premiums for Part B and D, and encourage certain beneficiaries to think more like consumers when it comes to their health care – a concept we know is the right approach to reducing health care costs. Both reforms will be phased in over time. For seniors, this will end years of needless concern and frustration that care will suffer from arbitrary cuts. And for families, this will mean a more stable Medicare program to care for their elderly parents. And for taxpayers, this will result in a huge amount of savings 20, 30, 40 years down the road.”
Rep. Roe, “Of course, much more needs to be done and like you, my to-do list for fixing our health care system is pretty long. We need to repeal the president’s flawed health care law. We need to put the focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs. And we need to make the real reforms necessary to ensure Medicare and all of our entitlement programs can serve future generations. For now, this is progress, and it’s an example of what we can accomplish when we focus on finding common ground.”
Congressman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.