Congress’ Costly SNAFU on Medicare Payments
Medicare is running out of money, and a 21% cut in payments to Medicare providers (sort of) went into effect June 1st.
Doctors, hospitals, and old people have learned to rely on government payments, so they are pretty well organized to keep the flow of dollars going. Thus relief from this pay cut—known as the “doc fix”—has been under debate for quite a while. The thing is, there’s no money for it.
But the money magically appeared late Friday.
Wait a second: June 1st was, like, three weeks ago. Did Medicare doctors get that pay cut or not? Where did the money come from?
In anticipation that more greenbacks would come through, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services held off on processing Medicare payment claims at the new low rate until Congress came up with more funds. But finally on Friday the agency started paying claims going back to June 1st, including that big cut in pay.
Naturally, the health care lobby hit the roof, so late Friday the Senate figured out a way to free up funds. This summary says that the new plan reverses the cut and provides “a 2.2 percent update to physician payment rates through November 30, 2010.”
“Update”—that’s an increase—a raise, people. And the extension of funding lasts until just after the election, when you stop paying attention.
This “doc fix” is retroactive to June 1, so it will give Medicare docs all the money they wanted (perhaps more if the raise is retroactive), assuming the bill gets signed into law.
(To make things confusing, the Senate didn’t introduce a fresh new bill. They slapped new text into one of the big health care reform bills that’s now a dead letter because Obamacare has passed. H.R. 3962, formerly known as “The Affordable Health Care for America Act,” is now called “The Preservation of Access to Care for Medicare Beneficiaries and Pension Relief Act.”)
The Senate didn’t get this done quickly enough last week for it to be sent over to the House, so early this week the House will get its chance to pass this bill. Medicare doctors will get their money, and more.
But wait a second! Where again does the money come from? The bill costs each American family about $50. That’s $2 billion in new government revenues being collected and given to Medicare docs.
Scanning the text of the bill, I have to admit, I have no idea where it comes from. There’s no section called “New Taxes” to point out who must cough up the new billions. And the summary of the bill put together by the committee handling the bill is almost completely obscure about who pays.
In its ham-handed, day-late-dollar-short way, Congress is getting money to the Medicare doctors. The taxes to pay for it come out of the American public, in some way we aren’t able to figure out. Tout the spending. Hide the taxes.