As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction held its first real meeting this week, health experts gathered to offer their predictions of what the 12-person committee may actually accomplish. Panelists at a Washington, D.C., briefing on deficit reduction seemed cautiously optimistic, but also at times downright skeptical, that the so-called super committee will touch on some critical issues.
Concern over the future of Medicare physician pay was one hot agenda item that was repeatedly addressed by Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., a former Medicare chief and now senior fellow at Project Hope.
“If you believe the only way to get saving reductions in Medicare is to use the system we have now and pay less, this is going to be a really ugly picture,” Dr. Wilensky said. But she also cautioned that any physician pay fix may not have the immediate cost-cutting effect that the public desires.
“If there was an ability to seriously redo how physicians are paid, it would have an enormous potential impact for later-year spending…. Most of the changes that I would regard as reform are going to take a while to phase in and to show results,” Dr. Wilensky added.
Panelist Robert Greenstein agreed that the super committee would not likely make any permanent solutions to address the dreaded Sustainable Growth Rate formula.
“I think the joint committee will likely take the easy way out and do a fix for maybe a couple of years and kick the can down the road,” said Mr. Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
If the committee fails to come up with a plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget by Thanksgiving, $1.2 million in automatic cuts will go into effect. Among these cuts would be a 2% cut in physician pay under Medicare. That’s on top of the almost 30% cut slated for Jan. 1 under the SGR. Regardless, Dr. Wilensky said that most health care providers will be better off with the automatic cuts than anything else.
“For health care providers, a 2% reduction is likely to be a smaller reduction than what occurs in most other scenarios [involving Medicare cuts] that you could think about,” she said.
—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)
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