Super Committee Failure Puts Elderly and their Doctors in Tough Spot
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to complete its primary directive of coming up with a recommendation on how to cut the national deficit by $1.5 trillion will have wide-ranging effects on every American—including caregivers and their elderly parents.
On Monday, according to USA Today, the so-called ‘super committee,’ comprised of twelve Congressmen (six Republicans and six Democrats), admitted a defeat that effectively triggers a series of federal budget cuts set to begin in 2013.
If they go into effect, the cuts will influence spending on everything from education to military projects. And, while senior benefits programs like Social Security and Medicaid will not experience reductions, the same cannot be said for Medicare.
Under the current plan, the most impactful change on Medicare’s horizon is a 2 percent annual reduction in payments to doctors who treat the program’s beneficiaries. This will be in addition to the one-time 27.4 percent reduction in Medicare doctor reimbursements that is set to go in effect on January 1 of the coming year—the date that the temporary buffer protecting them from previously scheduled reductions ends.
As promised by legislators, Medicare beneficiaries themselves will not pay more but they may find that the number and quality of health care professionals willing to treat them diminishes. Physicians can choose whether or not they will accept Medicare beneficiaries. While most doctors currently treat seniors participating in the program, fewer will be willing to do so if their government reimbursements for seeing these patients decrease.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) says that the cuts will, “within weeks endanger Medicare beneficiaries’ and military families’ access to care.”
According to the ACP, doctors will be forced to make decisions that will drastically impact, not only senior’s access to care, but the value of the care they do receive. They predict that less money means health care professionals will have to make difficult judgment calls regarding staff reductions, whether to buy new equipment and, even the possibility that they may have to close their practice.
Some lawmakers have expressed a commitment to amending the scheduled budget slashes, but President Obama has warned that he will not stand for drastic revision to the plan. “I will veto any effort to get rid of these automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one.”
The true and full extent of the triggered reductions will not be felt for many years. But, the fact remains that, the elderly and their caregivers won’t be totally shielded from the effects of the impending federal budget cuts. Like everyone else in the country, they will be forced to continue driving on the country’s crumbling deficit highway, dodging potholes and hoping that their cars don’t run out of gas while they wait for traffic to clear.
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