Obama’s Medicare Cuts: Real and Deadly
By Betsy McCaughey
Expect Joe Biden to tee up Medicare in tonight’s debate against Paul Ryan. In campaign stops this week, the vice president repeatedly harangued that the Romney/Ryan ticket “says that we’re cutting Medicare. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Sorry, Joe: It’s exactly the truth.
The Congressional Budget Office confirms that the Obama health law cuts $716 billion from Medicare’s future funding over the next decade. That will result in less money to pay hospitals, doctors, hospice care, dialysis centers and Advantage plans that care for seniors.
Hospitals will have $247 billion less to care for the same number of seniors than if the law had not been enacted.
Guaranteed benefits only mean something if there is money to pay for them — and it won’t be under ObamaCare. The cuts will force hospitals to reduce care, diminishing survival rates for elderly patients.
President Obama tried to pull the same fast one in last week’s presidential debate, saying the Medicare cuts will merely stop “overpaying” providers.
That’s a whopper. Medicare already pays hospitals less than cost, on average about 91 cents for a dollar of care, according to federal data. Further slashing payments to hospitals isn’t about trimming profit margins.
Richard Foster, chief actuary of Medicare and Medicaid Services, has warned Congress that ObamaCare’s cuts in hospital payments are so severe that 15 percent of hospitals may stop accepting Medicare. Many more will respond by spreading nurses thinner and reducing care.
History proves it. When Medicare cut payment rates to hospitals in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, hospitals hit with the largest reductions in Medicare revenue (over $1,000 per patient) trimmed nursing staff to make ends meet. Eventually, patients at these hospitals had a 6 percent to 8 percent worse chance of surviving a heart attack than patients at hospitals hit less hard by the Medicare cuts, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
And even the largest cuts to hospitals in 1997 are small compared with what’s coming under ObamaCare.
Last week, Obama said that cutting what hospitals are paid is “savings.” Not true: His cuts will cost lives, not save them.
Elderly patients treated at low-spending hospitals get less care and are at higher risk of dying. Research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and RAND and published in 2011 (Annals of Internal Medicine) shows that heart-attack patients at low-spending hospitals (bottom quintile) are 19 percent more likely to die than patients of the same age at higher-spending hospitals (top quintile).
Similarly, patients with pneumonia, congestive heart failure and stroke had worse chances of dying at the low-spending hospitals than patients of the same age and illness at hospitals that spend more per senior.
Yet the authors of the Obama health law decided to compel hospitals in all 50 states to imitate low-spending hospitals, where death rates are higher. On top of the across-the-board cuts in hospital payments, the administration just started awarding bonuses to hospitals that spend the least per senior.
Cutting hospital payments is a sneaky way to control Medicare spending. Politicians can claim they’re not changing benefits; more seniors will suffer more and die prematurely, but their loved ones will be none the wiser about why.
Our health-insurance system needs reform. An estimated 18,000 Americans a year die because they lack insurance. That tragedy needs to be fixed. But the Obama/Biden remedy — slashing funds from what hospitals would spend on seniors — will cost more lives.
It’s not reform, it’s murder.
Betsy McCaughey is the author of “The Obama Health Law: What It Says and How to Overturn It.”