Deficit panel delays vote; Curbing Medicare spending part of proposal

Over the next ten years, 30 million more seniors will pour into Medicare, which already eats up 12 percent of the federal budget and 20 percent of all health spending, NPR reports. That has deficit hawks worried. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director, says, "If you look past the next eight to 10 years, Medicare is the deficit problem… And there's simply no way we can address our fiscal problems without coming to terms with Medicare's future."

"Unless you change who is eligible for the program — something no one seems to be suggesting — there are really only two ways to make Medicare cost less: Pay health care providers like doctors and hospitals less, or make Medicare patients pay more. Until now, neither has been very popular politically" (Rovner, 12/1).

Realted, earlier KHN story: Deficit Reduction Plans Would Squeeze Medicare (Carey, 11/29)

Meanwhile, "[t]he chairmen of President Obama's debt-reduction commission have been unable to win support from any of the panel's elected officials for their proposed spending cuts and tax increases, underscoring the reluctance of both parties to risk short-term political backlash in pursuit of the nation's long-term fiscal health," The New York Times reports. "The chairmen of the commission — former Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine B. Bowles, a Democrat and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton — delayed for two days, until Friday, a final vote by its 18 members" (Calmes and Baker, 11/30).

According to The Washington Post, the report the panel had prepared is "full of political dynamite, including sharp cuts in military spending, a higher retirement age and tax reforms that would cost the average taxpayer an extra $1,700 a year. … It also took aim at programs for the elderly - the biggest and fastest-growing category of federal spending - advocating higher Medicare premiums and smaller Social Security checks, particularly for the richest 50 percent of retirees" (Montgomery, 11/1).

ABC News: "Even as the United States struggles with a staggering $1.3 trillion budget deficit and a $13.8 trillion national debt, many are questioning whether there is political will to tackle the issue with bold measures that may not always be popular with the public." For example, "Congress continues to pass legislation that will add to the total" deficit. "The Medicare 'doc fix' ...  will cost U.S. taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years" (Khan, 12/1).

Kaiser Health News examines Medicare payment issues in the webcast "Health on the Hill" with host Jackie Judd saying: "For the fourth time this year, Congress has passed the so-called 'doc fix' to prevent a deep cut in payments made to doctors treating Medicare patients."

The fix is for one month but some people want a longer solution. KHN's Mary Agnes Carey says: "There will be a lot of focus on how to finance a 12-month fix of the doc fix, which is about $17 billion. So, once again it's the battle over the offsets. Both sides want to do this. President Obama supports the longer term fix, but whether or not they will be able to get a 12-month patch is completely unclear"  (11/30). 

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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