In pushing for healthcare reform, President Barack Obama promised that — under his plan — Americans would be able to keep the insurance they have. That promise is beginning to fall short.
Ten years ago, my rural Kentucky district became the epicenter for prescription drug abuse, namely the diversion and addiction of Oxycontin. Local hospitals were facing weekly overdoses to pills issued by pain clinics only a few blocks away. Today, this epidemic is reaching every community across state lines, socio-economic groups, and geographic boundaries. Solutions need to be found and alarm raised at all levels of government to tackle this problem. With the critical help of Representative Mary Bono Mack, we’re getting organized to do just that through the Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus.
It may have faded from the daily news headlines, but the health care law passed by Congress is still generating a lot of questions, controversy — and lawsuits.
Our nation’s blood supply is facing a serious shortage. The American Red Cross, the single largest provider of blood in the United States, reports difficulty maintaining an adequate blood supply from a shrinking pool of eligible donors. As a result, cancer patients, those in need of organ transplants, and trauma victims in our emergency rooms don’t have access to the life-saving transfusions they need. Despite this shortage that costs us American lives every day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to lift—or even adjust—its antiquated and discriminatory ban which prohibits gay and bisexual men from donating much-needed blood.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama continued to sell his government takeover of healthcare to seniors. Despite the Administration’s PR gimmicks, more Americans continue to reject the product, price and process of Obamacare. Since he signed the bill into law on March 23, Americans have seen what “change” looks like, and it is not a healthy picture.
Today, President Obama kicked off a new PR campaign to try and resuscitate his health care bill that has fallen on hard times since being signed into law a couple months back.
On a tele-townhall meeting this morning with senior citizens in Maryland, the President focused on promoting $250 rebate checks for Medicare beneficiaries. The problem with this is that very few Americans will actually receive the check. In fact, more than 9 in 10 beneficiaries are expected to be left out. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said as much in a letter to Congressional Leadership on May 11, 2010.
With the passage of Medicare nearly 45 years ago, our nation made a promise to elderly Americans. We promised that they would no longer go without needed health care. For 45 years and, through their monthly premiums today, 44 million elderly Americans have paid for Medicare coverage. And yet we are breaking our promise to one in four of these patients: today, 25 percent of elderly and disabled patients who are seeking a doctor cannot find one who is accepting Medicare patients.
Why? Because instability in the Medicare physician payment system threatens the viability of thousands of physician practices and the health security of hundreds of thousands of their patients. Today’s physicians are compensating their nurses, physician assistants and other staff with 2010 wages. They are paying for electricity, heating and water at 2010 rates. They are buying medical supplies and equipment at 2010 prices. But under current Medicare payment system, their practices are earning 2001 income. At some point, they cannot continue the losses.
That point may come one week from today. Unless Congress acts to stop the 21 percent Medicare pay cut to physicians, even more elderly and disabled Americans will find themselves holding a Medicare card that has little or no value.
This pay cut will – at best – reduce the quality of service. Some physicians will try to make up the difference by seeing more patients – shortening the length of time they can spend with each individual patient. Others will be forced to lay off nurses, physician assistants and other staff so vital to high quality care, convenient access and coordinated services. Others will have no choice but to restrict the number of Medicare beneficiaries they can accept. In fact, we’re already beginning to see this happen. In December, the esteemed Mayo Clinic in Glendale, Arizona, stopped accepting Medicare for its 3,000 primary care patients. Seven days ago, we learned that physicians in Texas are opting out of Medicare participation in droves.
And in the worst case scenario, physicians will close their practices — driven out of business or into retirement by a payment system that has frozen their practice income for nearly a decade while inflation has grown by 20 percent and that has continually threatened to slash the already inadequate payment for services rendered.
This crisis is developing at a time when nearly one in four patients in family physicians’ offices is a Medicare beneficiary. In rural and underserved areas, one in three is a Medicare patient. In some practices, 60 to 80 percent of physicians’ patients depend on Medicare. This number will grow as more members of the Baby Boom generation become eligible for Medicare. The implications are clear. Access to needed medical care will plummet without a permanent solution to the Medicare physician payment system.
This is not about money. It’s not about special interests. It’s about people. A generation of people who worked hard, paid their taxes, defended their country, educated their children, and built this nation. It’s about people who heard a promise — that we would ensure stability in their access to the physicians who care for them and the services that maintain quality life to the end.
Without immediate action to halt the 21 percent pay cut next week and without additional action to permanently fix this deeply flawed system, Congress will renege on its promise of ensuring access to health care for their elderly and disabled constituents. We must pass HR 4213. We must keep doctors’ doors open. We must enact permanent Medicare payment reform because we must keep our promise of health care for our most vulnerable citizens.
Economist Milton Friedman once said, “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” The business relationship between independent community pharmacies, their patients and CVS Caremark falls short of that standard.
The root of the problem is the company’s dual role as both prescription drug plan administrator for approximately 82 million Americans and as the owner of 7,000 drug stores. That inherent conflict apparently allows it to leverage independent community pharmacies into unfavorable reimbursement contracts for “in-network” access to many patients. Then, CVS Caremark steers patients to fill prescriptions at its own mail order or retail pharmacies ― effectively becoming both payors of and competitors with community pharmacies.
When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the merger between retail chain pharmacy CVS and pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Caremark in March 2007, the company pledged to be “agnostic as to where the consumers fill their prescription.” Community pharmacists strongly opposed the merger and doubted CVS Caremark’s commitment to agnosticism. Those misgivings appear to have proved prophetic.
President Barack Obama touted the benefits of his signature healthcare law on Saturday in his weekly radio address.
The president highlighted the pressure on insurers to end the practice of recissions and new rules that allow young adults to stay on their parents' healthcare plans until age 26.
Find the entire address below: