Some Lawmakers Willing To Let Cuts to Medicare, Other Programs Proceed
Lawmakers recently have openly suggested that they might allow mandated spending cuts under sequestration -- including a 2% reduction to Medicare reimbursement rates -- to take effect in March, theÂ Wall Street JournalÂ reports (Hook,Â Wall Street Journal, 2/10).Â
The mandated spending cuts under sequestration involve about $1 trillion in across-the-board reductions. In January, President Obama signedÂ legislation -- negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- that delayed the cuts by two months, to March 1 (California Healthline, 2/6).Â
Negotiations To Avoid Sequester
According to theÂ Journal, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on a potential deal to avoid the sequester. Further, lawmakers from both parties have indicated that they might acquiesce to the cuts. Some Democrats have said the urgency to avoid the automatic cuts has been tempered by the fact that Medicaid is exempt. Meanwhile, some Republicans believe the across-the-board reductions would be preferable to any plan that includes raising taxes (Wall Street Journal, 2/10).Â
Despite some lawmakers' apparent willingness to allow the sequester to take effect, the White House on Friday said it would not get involved in the negotiations and would defer to Congress on how best to develop a solution for curbing the national debt (Paletta/Hook, Wall Street Journal, 2/8).Â
However, in recent days President Obama has urgedÂ Republicans to accept a short-term solution, including spending cuts and higher taxes, while lawmakers develop a longer-term solution.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday said President Obama "is particularly concerned ... about the apparent willingness -- almost seeming desire -- by some Republicans to allow the sequester to kick in."
White House Details Health Care Cuts Under Sequester
In related news, the Obama administration on Friday releasing an account of some nonmilitary spending cuts that would take effect under the sequester, which it says would include adverse effects on the drug approval process, mental health care and medical research,Â Modern HealthcareÂ reports.Â
According to the White HouseÂ fact sheet, FDA would experience "delays in new drug approvals" under the automatic spending cuts (Daly,Â Modern Healthcare, 2/8). The agency also "would need to reduce operational support for meeting review performance goals, such as the recently negotiated user fee goals on new, innovative prescription drugs and medical devices." The agency also could inspect 2,100 fewer domestic and foreign food manufacturers.
The fact sheet also said the automatic spending cuts could:
- End treatment for 373,000 individuals with mental illness by reducing the Mental Health Block Grant program (CQ HealthBeat, 2/8);
- Threaten up to 1,000 NIH research grants, resulting in about 12,000 fewer research positions (Superville/Taylor,Â AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/8);
- Prevent about 8,900 homeless individuals with serious mental illness from getting outreach, treatment, housing and support through the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness program;
- Reduce CDC's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, resulting in 7,400 individuals with HIV/AIDS losing access to life-saving HIV medications; and
- Reduce the number of HIV/AIDS tests conducted by CDC state grantees by 424,000, which could "result in increased future HIV transmissions, deaths from HIV and costs in health care."
In addition, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service could be forced to furlough all employees for about two weeks, according to the fact sheet (CQ HealthBeat, 2/8). USDA officials said the furlough could lead to a shutdown of meat-processing plants, because federally regulated slaughterhouses are not permitted to operate without FSIS inspectors (Ferguson/Brasher,Â CQ Roll Call, 2/8).ÂThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.