Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Congress that can say no

Well it eventually had to happen. After a decade of relentless spending by the federal government, Congress has finally decided that an unfunded mandate for a lobbying group was too much and they voted it down. When the music stopped, the group that was left without a chair was...doctors. This afternoon, Congress didn't approve an AMA supported bill, S1776, that would have prevented a 21% cut to Medicare reimbursements for next year and abolished the SGR system that has driven down physicians' incomes every year. Though it was a bad bill, just the thought that physicians, of all the special interest groups, would come out on the losing end is galling.

The Republicans in the Senate decided that they are the party of smaller government and fiscal discipline after all. This despite the trillions of dollars spent in the last ten years for two wars and the new Medicare drug entitlement program. They unanimously voted against S1776. They just couldn't stand the thought of spending another $250 billion over ten years ($25 billion per year out of a $2 trillion federal budget) for doctors unless some way was found to pay for it.

The Democrats came to the conclusion that enough was enough. They had to draw the line somewhere on federal spending. This after spending trillions in the last year on bailouts for: banks, insurance companies, brokerages, auto companies, auto suppliers, car dealers, home builders, unions, etc. The Blue Dog Democrats decided to live up to their reputations as "conservative" Democrats and said no to more spending without limits.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the welfare of doctors though. We won't get our Medicare reimbursements cut; Congress will issue their annual "doc fix" to make sure we continue to subsist off the crumbs of the federal budget while a more permanent solution is found. The reason they will do this is not because they are afraid of angry doctors and the AMA, which has proven itself to be a paper tiger. No, it will be because they are afraid of all the elderly voters and the AARP, who will be up in arms if they have trouble finding a physician to take care of them. Doctors, the biggest losers so far during this health care debate.

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