It has been lightly reported that the recent last-minute agreement on the so-called fiscal cliff contains yet another round of significant Medicare cuts to hospitals. The $11 billion reduction in Medicare payments to hospitals is in addition to the $155 billion over 10 years that is part of the implementation of Obamacare.
Automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, include a 2 percent Medicare payment reduction to all health care providers, which are now scheduled to take effect March 1. This amounts to another $123 billion over 10 years.
Why should upstate citizens care about the continued assault on hospital Medicare payments? People should be very concerned because upstate hospitals have a very high number of Medicare patients compared to other areas of the state and nation. In the first six months of 2012, the majority of upstate hospitals (67 percent) had from 50 to 87 percent of their total inpatient overnight stays paid for by Medicare. With the recent fiscal cliff agreement, hospitals in the U.S. will be paid less for each service they provide to Medicare patients. By reducing the Medicare rate and paying less for the care provided, the federal government is limiting health care access. The continuing Medicare rate reductions to hospitals will negatively impact all patients who seek hospital services, not just Medicare patients. Services will be reduced or eliminated, and staffing cuts will ultimately affect patient care.
Ironically, upstates older and more vulnerable population is driving disproportionate cuts to the hospitals which are struggling to provide care to this same group of upstate citizens. Upstate communities need to make their voices heard against additional Medicare cuts, which affect more than just seniors.
Gary J. Fitzgerald
The writer is president of the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance.