On March 26, an overwhelming bipartisan House majority voted for H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), by 392-37. This bill is the so-called Medicare “doc fix,” a prize that has been chased for many years but never caught by politicians eager to break out of the fiscal discipline a previous Congress had imposed on them.
In 1997, similarly large bipartisan majorities passed the Balanced Budget Act, which introduced the way Medicare pays doctors today. Payments are supposed to be based on the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). The SGR was designed to contribute to a balanced budget by linking Medicare’s payments to physicians with a measurement of the nation’s ability to pay for the entitlement: Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.
Unfortunately, the rate of growth indicated by the SGR was not adequate to pay physicians enough to see Medicare beneficiaries. So, within a few years, Congress had to find more money. Importantly, Congress always paid for these increased payments by cutting spending in other areas.
This has become increasingly painful for politicians, who now revile the SGR as “broken” and “unworkable.” They act as though the fiscal discipline brought about by the SGR was imposed on them by alien invaders instead of Congress itself.
So, last month, the House of Representatives decided to throw any pretense of fiscal discipline out the window, passing an unfunded “doc fix” that will add half a trillion dollars of debt to the nation’s balance sheet. Further, it increases federal control of the practice of medicine, thereby reinforcing the changes to Medicare introduced five years ago in Obamacare (which explains why President Obama has pledged to sign the bill).
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