Tuesday at midnight doctors seeing Medicare patients face the double-digit consequences of the price-fixing on autopilot of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) mechanism.
At exactly the same time that a bipartisan bill is making a great stride forward for Medicare in the House of Representatives, the Senate is poised to vote on a great step backward. Specifically, Senator Jack Reed is offering an amendment to the Senate budget resolution with the purpose of “making prescription drugs more affordable for seniors and for tax-payers by requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prescription drug costs under the Medicare program.”
Congress has the chance to eliminate an annual legislative nightmare, fix the reimbursement of doctors under Medicare, introduce substantive, structural changes to an entitlement program, and ensure the continued insurance coverage of needy children – all without raising a dime of taxes. Reports indicate that there is a bipartisan, bicameral leadership agreement for Congress to repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) mechanism, as well as extend for two years the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and numerous other health provisions. The legislation isn’t perfect – more on that below – but it is an important step forward.
“Medicare” actually consists of several programs: Part A covers hospital stays, Part B covers outpatient doctor visits, and Part D covers outpatient prescription drugs. Collectively, these — especially A and B — constitute the “fee-for-service” traditional approach to Medicare.
When the U.S. housing bubble burst the aftershocks were at the heart of the financial crisis and Great Recession, so you might think that policymakers would avoid at all costs the kinds of policies that fed the housing bubble. Enter the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which yesterday put into effect a 0.50 percent (50 basis points) reduction in the premiums borrowers must pay for taxpayer-backed FHA mortgage insurance.
Medicare accounted for an unsustainable 14 percent of federal spending in 2013.
A key piece of economic news was yesterday’s Case-Shiller Home Price Indices which showed a nationwide deceleration in the rate of home price appreciation. The national average is now rising at a rate of 6.2 percent over the past 12 months. The release generated some hand-wringing about the possibility that the housing recovery might stall, something that has clearly happened in Phoenix and other metropolitan areas.
The Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare programs released their annual reports yesterday. Read the coverage and claims contained therein carefully, with an eye for two key moments of spin: (1) the fiscal news is good and the programs are fine, and (2) Obamacare has improved the outlook for Medicare. Instead, remember this: (3) both programs are fiscal toast and need immediate reforms to continue to provide future seniors with an appropriate safety net.
Senate confirmation hearings begin this week for Sylvia Matthews Burwell–currently the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the President’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Burwell would replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has held the office since April 2009. Ms. Burwell should move to make HHS a more transparent, accountable organization under her leadership.