Statement On S. 1776, the “Medicare Physician Fairness Act of 2009”

am proud to be a cosponsor of the bill we are considering today, the “Medicare Physician Fairness Act”, introduced by Senator Stabenow.  This bill would permanently end the scheduled reductions in Medicare and TRICARE payments that physicians face each year.  This legislation is long overdue and an important step in making sure doctors will continue to serve Medicare patients and veterans in the years to come.

This year marks the eighth year in a row that Congress will be forced to prevent scheduled physician payment cuts under the Medicare program.  The scheduled cuts are based on a flawed formula, which cuts physician payments in the future if physician spending exceeds a target based on the growth of the economy.  Because the scheduled cuts are cumulative, next year we could expect to see a 21 percent reduction in physician payments and a cumulative 40 percent cut scheduled by 2016.  It is no wonder Congress has consistently acted to prevent these cuts and experts have called for a repeal of this broken formula.

Without passing this bill and permanently ending the schedule of physician payment cuts, doctors will continue to struggle to budget for the future without knowing with absolute certainty that Congress will act to prevent payment reductions.  The uncertainty in payment rates has already resulted in many physicians declining to accept Medicare making it hard for beneficiaries to find a doctor.  In rural states like Vermont, finding a doctor is challenging enough without looming payment cuts affecting doctors every year.  In addition to seniors, the more than 12,000 Vermont veterans and military personnel who participate in TRICARE will continue to feel their benefits are at risk so long as this flawed formula threatens payment reductions to their doctors.   

Some have argued that we cannot afford to make such an expensive fix to our health care system.  I disagree.  The President already assumed Congress will fix the payment cuts over the next ten years in his budget proposal.  We all know that without a permanent fix Congress will continue to act to prevent these debilitating cuts in payment rates to doctors.  The Administration’s budget gives a realistic estimate of projected Medicare spending.  Passing a permanent fix will allow us to have accurate estimates of Medicare spending, a first step toward truly reforming the physician payment system to one that is based on quality and performance and not on arbitrary formulas.

This legislation is an important step toward making changes in the Medicare and TRICARE physician payment structure that will help our entire health care system.  I regret that some misplaced partisan point-scoring threatens to prevent us from considering a bill we should have passed long ago.  I hope we can proceed to this bill and pass it swiftly so we can begin our work toward improving our overall health care system.

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