Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
Sun, April 21

Column: The Baucus bill

The Senate Finance Committee recently approved Senator Max Baucus's bill to reform the nation's healthcare system. Every Democrat on the Committee voted to approve this big government plan; all but one Republican opposed it.

I opposed it because it not only won't reduce healthcare costs (which is the No. 1 goal), but, for many Americans, it will actually make things worse. Many Americans, including middle-income families and the chronically ill, will see their insurance premiums go up and their taxes increased. Others, like seniors, will see their health-care choices eliminated. And everybody should be concerned about rationing of health care under this bill.

Additionally, while the president and proponents of the bill like to say that it won't "add a penny" to the deficit, it's not free. Someone has to pay the trillion-dollar tab. That someone is you.

Seniors, for instance, will feel the effects of Medicare cuts. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates this bill cuts Medicare spending by $449.4 billion over 10 years, thereby "paying for" nearly half of the bill's costs.Hundreds of billions of dollars will be cut from hospitals, nursing homes, home health-care providers, and hospice care. Nearly $120 billion would be slashed from the Medicare Advantage program on which many Arizona seniors rely. Seniors like the choices and benefits they now have, and they don't deserve to have them taken away to help pay for a new entitlement.

Does anyone doubt these massive cuts will reduce seniors' care? Here are just three ways this happens under the bill.

It sets up a Medicare Commission, which would be required to propose cuts in Medicare spending unless Congress achieved the cuts another way - but one way or the other, the cuts would have to be made. Arbitrary payment cuts to doctors, home health, hospitals, and others will result in the delay and denial of care.

Another rationing tool was explained by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 6: "Beginning in 2015, Medicare would rank doctors against their peers based on how much they cost the program - and then automatically cut payments by five percent to anyone who falls into the 90th percentile or above."

So, every year, 1 in 10 physicians would be punished for ordering - in the government's view - too many tests, treatments, or medications for their patients.

This provision applies immense pressure on physicians to provide less care, rather than provide the care that leads to the best outcomes. As the Journal notes, specialists, who make use of the more expensive procedures and technology to treat seniors and the chronically ill, would be most affected.

A third way rationing will occur is through the mandate that the government use "comparative effectiveness research" to make coverage decisions, which it will have the right to do for both government and private insurance.

The process is far from over, so Americans who oppose a government take-over of healthcare can still take part in the debate and convince their elected representatives they favor a different approach to healthcare reform. It's crucial that they do. Congress is empowered only through the consent of the American people. As the healthcare debate continues, I encourage you to continue letting your representatives know what you think about this critically important issue.

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