Sunday, May 13, 2012

Paying For The Doc Fix With Phantom Money

There is a new bill being introduced in Congress to get around the annual debacle known as the Doc Fix. The Doc Fix is necessary because of the way Medicare structures its payments to physicians. Because of a complex formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), Medicare has threatened to cut compensation to doctors every year. But thanks to interventions from Congress, that has been repeatedly delayed. Consequently the payment cuts accumulate, which by January of next year demands a 30% decrease to physicians as required by the SGR.

The U.S. is likely to see a windfall in its federal budget when we draw down our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. As proposed by Congressmen Allyson Schwartz (Democrat) and Joe Heck (Republican), their bill would use these new found billions to abolish the SGR.

On the face of it, that sounds fine and dandy. We suddenly have a new peace dividend that we can use to abolish the perennial headache of finding ways to appease physicians angered over the uncertainty of their incomes. As one who has a vested interest in seeing stability in my likelihood, I am all for getting rid of the SGR. However as a taxpayer I am troubled by the how this bill will be paid for.

You see, the so-called "windfall" from declining military expenditures is just fake money. We are running over one TRILLION dollars in annual deficits as it is. So instead of using the political circumstance to reduce our spending, we are using the phantom savings to buy something else. It's like saying you got a loan to buy a new car but then you change your mind. Instead you decide to use that borrowed money to buy a boat. In the end, it is still not your money. You have to pay it back eventually. That's the problem I'm having with this new Doc Fix. While it's good for doctors' incomes, in the big picture it's bad for our country's fiscal discipline (what little there is) and drives us ever closer to economic chaos. Am I just too conservative in my opinion? Should I just declare "Screw you all" and take what I think I deserve? Or should I look out for the common good and say there must be a better way without endangering future generations of Americans? I wished I had taken an ethics class in medical school.

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