We have reached a fork in the road, and ASA has decided to act to protect the interests of anesthesiology and the patients we serve.
This weekend the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 3962, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” ASA is urging a “yes” on this vote.
H.R. 3962 – which is not the same as the controversial H.R. 3200 -- includes a number of important health insurance reforms, and would ensure that physicians can negotiate payments under a scaled-down new public plan option. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cut $104 billion from the deficit by 2019 and reduce the uninsured population to 4%. H.R. 3962 does this without any cuts to physician payments. Furthermore, although H.R. 3962 does not include Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) physician fee update reform, House leaders are pairing the health reform bill with separate SGR legislation, H.R. 3961, which ASA strongly supports. H.R. 3961 repeals the currently flawed SGR formula, eliminates scheduled payment cuts in 2010 and beyond, and creates a pathway for future positive updates for physicians.
On the other hand, the U.S. Senate is crafting a bill that would be detrimental to medicine. It proposes to finance reform on the backs of physicians through a series of Medicare payment cuts. This is unacceptable to anesthesiology. Further, Senate legislation neglects to provide meaningful SGR reform.
Given the choice between the House bill and Senate bill, the choice was clear. When it comes time to amalgamate House and Senate legislation, it is vitally important that the achievements we’ve made in H.R. 3962 to protect the future of anesthesiology be on the table. Thus, we made a decision to urge a “yes” vote on the House bill.
We need all the help we can get to ensure that the final bill ultimately crafted by the Conference Committee includes the good provisions from the House bill, and shuns the destructive proposals from the Senate bill.
Thus, it is now critical to cement our relationships with our friends in the House of Representatives, who have recognized and responded to our 33 percent problem by delinking a public plan from Medicare payment rates. Their continued support is crucial to ensure that the final bill retains the negotiated, voluntary participation of physicians in a public option or any new government plan.
While far from a perfect bill, we believe that H.R. 3962 includes provisions that would extend commercial/private insurance to millions of Americans while shielding anesthesiologists from a proliferation of Medicare rates.
With passage of the House bill anticipated, we must now shift our attention to the Senate and its destructive reform legislation, as well as to the eventual Conference Committee. I urge ASA members to contact their Senators in strong opposition of the disastrous bill currently under consideration. We must aggressively fight against the enormous and irresponsible physician payment cuts that it contains.
ASA leaders, volunteers and staff continue working very closely with key players in the House and Senate. We also need your support as we work to protect our members and our patients.
I urge you to be wary of misinformation that may be circulating about health care reform. Even the best-intentioned people may inadvertently spread untruths about legislation under consideration. If you have questions or concerns about the policy or the process, please contact our ASA Washington office at (202) 289-2222. Staff are ready, willing and able to answer any questions you may have.
Alex Hannenberg, M.D.