WASHINGTON - Today, Senator Lee introduced an amendment to prevent the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 from adding $141 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. Lee's amendment would require Congress to make this bill comply with its normal "Pay As You Go" budget rules. "To put it very simply: paying for this new spending is the right thing to do," Lee said in a floor speech introducing his amendment. "My amendment would not delay or change anything else in the bill – doctors and seniors won’t notice any difference. It would just require Congress to budget for the costs – just like we promised we would when the Senate passed a budget resolution two weeks ago."
Senator Lee's full remarks can be found below:
We are here today because our Medicare status quo is not working. And it hasn’t been working for a long time.
For decades, Medicare has been on a path to insolvency. In 1997 Congress attempted to impose some fiscal discipline on the program by creating the “sustainable growth rate,” or SGR.
This is a budget-enforcing mechanism that calls for annual adjustments to the amounts physicians are reimbursed for treating Medicare patients.
The SGR was originally billed as a permanent solution to Medicare’s unsustainable fiscal trajectory. The idea was to restrain Medicare spending by linking physician reimbursements to a target amount based on the general performance of the economy.
While this may have seemed like a good idea at the time – when the economy was relatively strong and stable – it quickly lost its appeal when we went into the 2001 recession.
The plan also suffered from the central planner’s fatal conceit that trusts bureaucracies, rather than consumer preferences and real price pressures, to determine the cost of a good or service.
As it turns out, the actual cost of medical goods and services and the practice patterns of physicians do not necessarily align with the health of the economy or the predictions of bureaucrats.
So each year since 2003, the SGR formula has called for cuts to physician payments. And each year – often several times a year – Congress has passed legislation to temporarily prevent the reimbursement reductions from kicking in.
While these so-called “doc fix” bills have yielded some modest savings, as new spending has traditionally been offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget, they have not restrained the quickening pace of Medicare spending.
And while they have successfully avoided cuts to doctors’ pay, they have put the Medicare system in a near-constant state of uncertainty and instability – leaving Medicare doctor’s and their patients hanging in the balance.
America’s physicians and seniors deserve better than this.
But they also deserve better than the bill before us today – H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.
Congress has long wanted to repeal the SGR – and with good reason. But this is not the way to do it.
Not only does the House bill double down on Medicare’s broken price control model, but it does so, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while adding $141 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
Let’s look first at the policy implications of the underlying bill.
The new payment scheme proposed in this bill is simply more of the same inefficient form of central planning that further embeds Washington bureaucracy into every aspect of our health care system.
It continues the role of the federal government as price setter, rather than the price taker, in the free market. And it inflates the Administration’s power as regulator and compliance officer.
The principal change proposed by H.R. 2 is to move from a Medicare payment system based on volume to one based on bureaucratic measures of quality and value.
But we already know this doesn’t work, because it’s the same policy introduced under Obamacare that requires physicians to comply with government-established guidelines and stick to rigid one-size-fits-all best practices or pay a penalty.
Instead, we should be freeing the health care community from heavy-handed regulation and constant bureaucratic scrutiny.
Doing so is the only way to allow doctors to develop individualized, quality treatment plans for each of their patients, and to unleash innovation in health care delivery.
But with the current doc fix expiring tomorrow, and Medicare physicians facing a 21 percent pay cut, there is not enough time to re-open the bill and rewrite it with better policy.
But there is enough time to address the fiscal irresponsibility of this bill.
That’s why I’m offering an amendment to this bill that would simply require Congress to pay for that $141 billion under its normal “Pay As You Go” budget rules... rules that this bill explicitly exempts itself from, in Section 525.
The “Pay As You Go” budgeting rules – which share bipartisan support in Congress and the White House – wouldn’t force us to offset the new spending immediately.
Rather, we would have until the end of the year to find these savings and 10 years in which to achieve them.
My amendment would not delay or change anything else in the bill – doctors and seniors won’t notice any difference. It would just require Congress to budget for the costs – just like we promised we would.
Indeed, just two weeks ago, the Senate passed a 10-year balanced budget, stating specifically that any SGR-patch or repeal would not add to the deficit.
So passing this bill in its current form would not only be irresponsible – it would be dishonest.
Now, we have known for a long time that Medicare cannot survive without structural changes to its price control system. And we know that this bill, H.R. 2, does not contain such reforms.
According to a report issued last week by Medicare’s actuaries, [QUOTE] “under the new payment system, most doctors will see cuts in 2025.”
The only way to put Medicare on a sound fiscal footing is to make it work for America’s doctors and seniors.
To do that we need to work toward replacing the centralized price-fixing system of the status quo with a functional consumer market that empowers seniors to access the high-quality, individualized care they deserve and that enables doctors to do what they do best – provide the very best medical treatment in the entire world.
This is my goal. And I believe it is a goal widely shared in this chamber. But we can’t deceive ourselves: to get there, we must be responsible with the public trust and we must be honest with ourselves. To that end, I implore my colleagues to support this amendment.
To put it very simply: paying for this new spending is the right thing to do. And we just passed a budget promising that we would do it. My amendment does nothing more than hold us to that very promise.