WHEN MY Merrimack constituent, John, was sixteen and started his first job after school as a dishwasher, he didn’t give much thought to the payroll taxes coming out of his weekly check. But during the subsequent 49 years of working his way to Medicare enrollment, he learned those taxes would enable him to have healthcare in retirement. And even though John, like most of us, grumbled over paying taxes, he knew healthcare coverage in retirement is not only good for seniors, but good for Granite Staters and all Americans.
That was the promise of Medicare: to end the suffering that — up until it was introduced in the 1960’s — left far too many senior citizens helplessly sick and in poverty. By investing in Medicare during one’s working years, an American could retire at 65 with the security of having healthcare coverage at a time when they would likely need it the most. And although Medicare has its own out of pocket costs, its affordability keeps many seniors out of poverty and able to contribute economically to their communities.
However, the actions of Congress dating back to the 2013 budget sequestration threatens Medicare, a program that supports more than 62 million Americans. In theory these cuts make sense for fiscal responsibility but their impact on patients and doctors is lasting. Not only are those 2% cuts set to return at the end of 2021, but another 8% of cuts for Medicare reimbursements are on the table right now. Those cuts must be stopped or we will see widespread disruption to quality medical care.
The issues facing Medicare are compounded by a trigger in the American Rescue Plan, which will add another 4% in cuts through “pay as you go” requirements (PAYGO). According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this 4% cut amounts to $36 billion loss to Medicare providers. These providers are comprised of many independent physicians, therapists, and specialists who will be forced to absorb these cuts. Additionally, medical coding changes coming from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will result in an additional 3.75% cut that Congress needs to resolve.
Our healthcare providers cannot absorb these costs without cutting services to our seniors — people who worked for years to earn Medicare benefits. This situation threatens a healthcare system overwhelmed with managing the needs of COVID patients while a source of their economic stability and sustainability — physician office visits — saw a significant decrease. When our healthcare system fails for some of us, it fails for all of us.
Congress must waive the PAYGO cuts, address the fee schedule issues and move to end the sequester cuts in order to preserve the quality of care that Medicare recipients deserve.
And if these cuts aren’t damaging enough, the Medicare payment system itself is struggling to keep up with inflation, which is why Representatives Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster recently signed a letter calling for Congressional action: “The current Medicare payment system does not adequately incentivize high-quality care, and reimbursement has failed to keep up with inflation. We believe broad systemic reforms to the payment system are critical to speed the transition to value-based care. However, as Congress begins the complex process of identifying and considering potential long-term reforms, we must also create stability by addressing the immediate payment cuts facing health care professionals. These cuts will strain our health care system and jeopardize patient access to medically necessary services.”
On behalf of John and the millions of Granite Staters on Medicare, I add my voice to call on Congress to protect the promise made to our seniors so their retirement years are worthy of their hard work and contributions to our communities, state and country.