From a press briefing at the U.S. Capitol with AARP, the American Medical Association, the Military Officers Association of America, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) held a press briefing Tuesday morning designed to get the word out that she was ready to end what has now become an annual “Kabuki dance” as she put it — the congressional scrambling each year to restore cuts to physicians’ Medicare pay required by the “sustainable growth rate” formula. Why Kabuki? Because, she said, everyone knows that the cuts will never happen, and yet Congress goes through the high drama of pretending that it needs the revenue from the fee reductions, but then votes at the last minute to give physicians their money.
But, in a time when the President has promised that he won’t sign any bill that adds to the deficit and when Congress is supposed to be operating under rules that require a dollar savings for every dollar spent, reporters wanted to know — why was Sen. Stabenow making a $250 billion (over 10 years) promise to the American Medical Association?
The Hill has been rife with rumors that the Michigan Senator’s bill was a quid pro quo, buying off the AMA’s support for health reform. (Yes, other physician groups are supporting the SGR fix, including the American College of Cardiology, but the AMA still has powerful political cachet in the capital.)
First, a reporter asked if passage of the Stabenow bill would mean that the AMA would support the Democrats’ health reform bill. AMA President James Rohack deftly deflected and noted that the SGR fix predated any discussion of health reform. The AMA is committed to the bill because it solves a problem that’s been around at least 7 years, Dr. Rohack said.
Yeah, but does it guarantee that AMA will support the health reform bill?
“The AMA has been supporting health system reform for a long time,” demurred Dr. Rohack.
OK, but does passage of the SGR fix mean that the AMA would support the Senate reform bill?
“We haven’t seen the bill,” said the AMA president.
In the hall outside the briefing, reporters tried again. So are rumors of a deal just that?
The AMA is focusing on a problem that predates health reform, replied Dr. Rohack.
But there are reports that you promised Harry Reid a deal. “We’ve been working on this issue a long time,” said Dr. Rohack, who now appeared to have been replaced by a robot.
But did you cut a deal with Sen. (Harry) Reid to support this deal?
An aide pulled Dr. Rohack away from the huddle. “Saved by the bell,” quipped a reporter.
Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) flat out accused the Democrats of having bought off the AMA, labeling it a “sinister act.”
For her part, Sen. Stabenow stood her ground that there were no politics involved. “I just want to get this fixed and stop pretending we are somehow paying for this by moving every year this cut into the future.”
So what do you think? Did the AMA cut a deal?
— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)