Sustainable Growth Rate

Sustainable Growth Rate

Why does Congress continually wait until the last minute to prevent cuts to the sustainable growth rate?

There is a canyon between the conversations going on in Washington and the ones happening in Colorado and the rest of the country. The dysfunction in Washington continues to get worse. Congress is legislating by crisis. It seems the only way to get things done is to come up against a deadline or for the next crisis to strike.

As you might know, on December 15, 2010, President Obama signed into law an SGR extension that averted a 23 percent cut in the Medicare physician reimbursement rate. I am pleased that we were able to prevent those devastating cuts, and that the one year fix was fully paid for and did not add to the deficit.

However, we found ourselves in the same situation again this past December. Congress backed up against another 11th hour deadline.

What is your position on the SGR?

We must prevent cuts to the SGR that have the potential to limit Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries’ access to their medical providers. Over half a million Colorado seniors on Medicare and our military personnel are at risk of finding that their doctors can no longer afford to treat them. Congress has blocked the cuts every time they’ve come up since 2003. I voted to prevent them in 2009, December 2010, and again last month.

The bill I supported was a paid-for measure that prevented these devastating cuts from taking effect on January 1. I have supported preventing these cuts every time they’ve come up in the short time I’ve been in the Senate.

Although short-term fixes to the SGR are important to ensure that Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries continue to have access to their doctors, they are unsustainable in the long run for physicians, who cannot continue to work month to month without being certain that they will be adequately reimbursed for their services. This is especially a problem during open season for health coverage plans - when doctors must make decisions about whether or not to continue seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients.

Do you support a permanent fix?

The Medicare physician payment system needs to be permanently fixed, and I support fixing it in a way that does not add to our deficit. We can’t continue to pile mounds of debt onto our kids and grandkids because we aren’t willing to make difficult choices.

As you may know, the 12-member bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that was tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions announced its failure to reach a bipartisan compromise on November 21, 2011. I share the complete frustration of most Coloradans with Washington and its inability to do the work it is supposed to do.

Our national debt, which now stands at approximately $15 trillion, represents one of the greatest challenges that we face as a nation. If we do not act decisively, and in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner, our kids will not have the same opportunities that our parents and grandparents made available to us.

Having said that, I do not believe that budget cuts should disproportionately target programs that invest in our future medical and economic progress. Coloradans tell me they want a deficit reduction plan that materially addresses the problem, ensures we’re all in it together, and is bipartisan. It was my hope that the Joint Committee could create a plan that met this three-part test.

In 2010 you passed into law the Care Transitions Act as part of the affordable care act. Are there any updates?

Yes. The Department of Health and Human Services announced in November the first site selections for the Community Based Care Transitions Program, which as you might know is based on work in Grand Junction and Denver that reduced hospital readmission rates among Medicare patients and could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

It represents an important step toward bringing an innovative Colorado program to improve patient care and save taxpayers money to the national level.

Colorado has shown the country that better-coordinated care and community collaborations can lead to higher-quality outcomes at a much lower cost to patients, hospitals and our health care system as a whole. Now, other communities across the country will have the same opportunities.

The Community Based Care Transitions Program is now part of the HHS’ Partnership for Patients initiative, which incentivizes collaboration at the community level that will improve patient safety, lead to higher-quality care and bring down costs.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Partnership for Patients has the potential to save up to $35 billion in health care costs, including up to $10 billion for Medicare. Over the next ten years, it could reduce costs to Medicare by about $50 billion and result in billions more in Medicaid savings.

As part of the partnership, this program is committing $500 million to community-based organizations partnering with eligible hospitals to help patients transition from hospitals to other settings of care.