The 'kill granny' bill
AS the health-reform bills move through Congress, the prognosis for Medicare pa tients gets worse and worse.
The Senate Finance Committee bill (generally called the Baucus bill, after Chairman Max Baucus) robs the elderly to cover the uninsured -- like snatching purses from little old ladies. The House bills already cut future funding for Medicare by $500 billion over the next decade. The Baucus bill would slash a similar amount, just when 30 percent more people enter the program as baby boomers turn 65.
The Baucus bill also puts new limits on what doctors can do for patients in Medicare:
* A "race to the bottom" provision (p. 102 of the revised chairman's mark) would take effect each year for the next five years. The provision penalizes doctors who end up in the 90th percentile or above on the cost of what they use to treat their patients, compared with national averages. The intent is to force down the cost of care, year by year. Yet this blunt instrument can't determine which care is actually wasteful -- it will punish doctors for treating high cost patients with complex conditions. Inevitably, it will lower the quality of care.
* Even more devastating is the amendment Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) got inserted into the bill (revised chairman's mark, pp. 102-3). It gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to define quality, cost-effective care for each medical condition and penalize doctors who spend more on their patients.
The law establishing Medicare in 1965 barred the federal government from interfering in doctors' treatment decisions. Slowly, Medicare regulations have begun unraveling that protection. Now the Cantwell amendment finishes the job.
This is the most extreme change to Medicare ever. Dr. David McKalip, a Florida neurosurgeon and a board member of the Florida Medical Association, predicts: "The only doctors left in Medicare will be those willing to ration care and practice cookbook medicine." [...]
Is this the "Change we can believe in?".